Feeling threatened by violence?

Threatening hand

Have you noticed a change in online commentary from preppers and survivalists? I am seeing more stories that show writers feeling threatened by violence.

Bloggers who used to write about uses for duct tape are sending out repeated posts about stockpiling emergency supplies. I am getting promotions for guns (“add a red dot laser scope”), specialty ammunition and last week, “the knife assassins love.” (What?!) One of my favorite writers has been telling readers about searching for an additional bug-out location for his family.

I’ll admit to more concern for my own personal safety since the violence of January 6. And while I’m not ready to start actively promoting lethal weapons here at Emergency Plan Guide, I have considered and bought for myself a couple new, inexpensive products for self-defense. That’s what I’m discussing today.

All of these products are meant to be used BEFORE you get close enough to be touched by an assailant!

Don’t be caught empty-handed when you are feeling threatened.

Here’s a look at the self-defense items I now have, and why and when I want to have them with me.

OMG, threatened by a pack of coyotes . . .!

No, I don’t mean the human kind! You’ll recall that last week I mentioned that coyotes might be a danger to children walking to school. Well, I personally wouldn’t worry about one skinny coyote. But I sure would get animated if I looked up and suddenly there were 3 or 4 of them waiting for me!

In past years, I took my evening walk with an empty soda can in my pocket, filled with a few coins. Makes a great rattle that scares coyotes away. Turns out that coyotes get used to just one hazing method, so it’s good to have several! (If you’re worried about coyotes in your own neighborhood, you can get some good hazing info at the Humane Society.)

orange plastic emergency whistle as call for help when feeling threatened

So nowadays I’ve added my orange emergency whistle as a hazing device. You may have read how our neighborhood emergency group delivered an emergency whistle to every one of our neighbors! People really like them. Because they are flat, they tuck into your shirt and can be easily pulled out when needed — to call for help or scare off coyotes.

Scary dudes on the street in your own neighborhood

We’re hearing all kinds of stories of single women being hassled or threatened in parking lots. Sometimes the hasslers stay in their cars, other times they hide between cars. These incidents take place at all hours.

I am NOT interested in dealing with a potential threat when I’m carrying groceries, getting ready to open the trunk of the car, etc. So here’s my latest purchase – a Rechargeable-Self-Defense-Keychain-Alarm.

Keychain alarm with flashlight warns against threat
Chose from a variety of colors.
How to recharge the key-chain alarm

I got this three-pack from WETEN at Amazon, where we are associates. The alarm is small and smooth, and comes with a short cable for recharging. You press the button or pull the chain and the alarm goes off – at 130 decibels. Plus the white end is a handy flashlight – steady or blinking LED.

The photo shows how I used a nail file to pry open the little black cover so I could connect the cable to recharge the alarm.

Here’s the link to the alarm again. You might consider buying up a whole collection of these alarms in different colors. Pass them out to your children, family members at Thanksgiving dinner, etc. Easy to attach to key chain, strap of backpack, etc.

When a crowd turns ugly

I’ve written before about using pepper spray in a crowd situation. I like the Sabre red-topped spray I have, but today I’d like to show you a sprayer that uses GEL instead of spray.

can of Sabre Pepper Gel for self-defense when feeling threatened

The advantages of gel: it stays in a stream rather than dispersing as a spray. This allows you to focus on a particular target. This particular model shoots a full 18 feet and can deliver up to 18 bursts. (According to Alcohol Rehab, crime data shows that around 40% of violent crimes are committed by people under the influence of alcohol – so they may not respond with just one blast.)

This canister also has a sturdy clip to go over a belt. Safety flip-top. Bonus from SABRE — some excellent videos. Here’s the link to this Sabre Crossfire Pepper Gel.

Potential threat at the front door

This spray is another step up when it comes to power and effectiveness. It’s actually a pepper gel that contains a dye to help you see where it’s landing. The canister is about the size of a slim bottle of hair spray. You pull the safety pin and squeeze the handle to shoot the spray up to 35 feet – twice the range of the one-hand Sabre spray described above.

Here’s the link for full details at Amazon. AIMHUNTER Home Self Defense Unit, Tactical Pepper Gel with Ultraviolet Dye, Maximum Strength 35-Foot Range 35 Bursts, Quick Release for Easy Access Pepper Spray Self Defense. I hope you’d consider storing this canister right at the front door so it’s within easy reach if you’re ever feeling threatened.

If you’re feeling threatened, you want some protection.

These four self-defense items are meant to discourage an attacker before he comes near enough to touch you. They aren’t life-threatening, but they aren’t toys, either. Please read the disclaimers below in the P.S. before you finalize your purchases.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Two disclaimers:

  • Your state may restrict purchases of pepper spray by size of the container and age of the purchaser. (In California you can get it at age 16 with parental permission.) Check to be sure.
  • Don’t use the sprays without having studied how to use them! There are plenty of videos available (see the Sabre sales material) about how the spray and gel travel and how to protect yourself from blow-back.

Prepare your kids for school-related emergencies

Young student prepared to respond to emergency
Will she know what to do?

Today let’s take a look at individual students’ readiness for a school-related emergency.

Last week I reviewed preparedness actions schools should be taking or at least considering. I hope you grabbed a copy of School Preparedness Questions to take with you to a Back to School meeting. This week, we’re taking a look at some ways you can prepare your kids for handling emergency decisions on their own!

How well your kids respond will depend on how well YOU have prepared them!

If you live in the country or spend time camping or even scouting, your family may “score” well on most of the following questions. But many of the kids I engage with as a school crossing guard don’t have access to physical challenges. Many are protected from dangerous/decision-building experiences. You’ll see that bias reflected in these Advisory questions!

Obviously, the “correct” answer to any of these school-related preparedness questions depends on the age of the child, where you live, your home environment, etc.

Are your kids aware of emergencies that could arise on the way to school?

  • What are realistic threats that your child could face on the way to (or from) school? Depending on your child’s age and where you live, the trip to or from school might include:
    • Dangerous traffic or street crossings
    • A car, bus or bike accident
    • Being approached by a stranger
    • Falling ill or getting a scrape or cut
    • Witnessing a fight or other violence
    • Being harassed or bullied by other children
    • Being threatened by a dog or wild animal
    • An unexpected weather event or road closure
    • You fill in the blank!
  • Do you prepare your kids for these “daily” possibilities as well as major threats like earthquake or fire? You’ll probably want to discuss likely threats one at a time. As your child gets older, the list of threats might change. Plan to have this potential “threat” conversation multiple times.
  • Does your young school-aged child know his or her full name and address? In an emergency, just a first name won’t do!
    Crossing Guard speaks: When your young child is asked, “What’s your name?” give them the space to answer! I make it a point to learn all my kids’ names. Every year, I am frustrated because so many protective parents jump right in with answers to ANY question I ask!
  • Has your child memorized at least one or two key phone numbers? In an emergency you may lose your personal phone, or it may not work. Emergency personnel will likely have the ability to connect.

Are your kids prepared to get home from school on their own?

  • In an emergency, could your child find his way home from school? Walking, or directing someone to take him? Under what conditions would you want your kid to walk home alone?
    Crossing Guard comment: Sometimes, when busy parents drop off kids at my corner before speeding off to work, I ask the kids: “So if you had to get home on your own, do you think you could find your way?” They mostly just shake their heads.
  • Do your walk-to-school children know more than one route home?
  • Is there a way your child can get home by taking a bus? Which bus? Which bus stops?

Does your child know what to expect in an emergency at school?

  • Does your child understand the what and why of school safety drills? Do you practice together at home to show you think the drills are important?
  • Do you prepare your kids for the fact that in an emergency they might have to stay at school for a long time? Or leave the school and go somewhere else?
  • How well would your child take emergency direction from someone new? (Teacher, crossing guard, police officer, school volunteer, etc.) Would your child be willing to come home with a neighbor? (You may have to adjust your teaching about “Don’t ever get into the car of a stranger.”)

What emergency supplies will your children have?  

Your questions to the school board should have resulted in answers about emergency supplies maintained by the school. Here are some questions about individual student supplies.

  • Does your school require that children bring an “emergency kit” to be kept in the classroom? What is in it? (Our research suggests that often it’s a couple of items in a zip lock baggie, almost totally useless.)
  • Does your child have personal emergency supplies in his backpack? How often do you replace and replenish the kit? Given the comments above, should your child’s personal kit contain an emergency phone?
  • Are all the items in your student’s kit allowed by the school?
Prepare your kids with a kit from this collection of student emergency kits from 2BeReady.com

What would you want in your kids’ school kit? These photos show examples of some of the Student and Classroom Kits from 2BeReady.com. (Best seller, upper left.) See P.S. and the bottom of this page for more details.

Final question: Does your child know how to call 911?

It seems so simple in the movies. But it’s not, for a child!

First, the kid has to have a phone. Landlines are easiest to manage and more reliable but there are hardly any around any more. So that means the call will likely be made on a cellphone. That phone has to have battery power and the child has to know how to get to the emergency keypad.

Once the child has reached emergency services, she’ll be asked many questions. The first question will be, “What is your emergency?” That will be followed by questions requiring name, address, location at that address, details about the emergency. Above all, your child mustn’t hang up!

Have you practiced making emergency 911 calls with your kids? (Don’t actually call, though.) We’ve all heard the stories of toddlers dialing 911 and saving a parent. It wasn’t luck. Those kids were trained!

School will be starting soon. Take this time to help prepare your kids for emergencies!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. I mentioned that typical school “emergency kits” are often pretty meager. My friend Susan at 2BeReady has researched and developed a selection of complete school emergency kits. Please take a look at her full page of different school kits from 2BeReady.   There’s a list of Frequently Asked Questions for school emergency supplies there, too. Order now and you’ll have what you need in time for the first day of school.

School Preparedness Questions for Parents – 2022


This will be my 7th year as an elementary school crossing guard. Here I am in the crosswalk on a rare drizzly day in 2019 – fluorescent suit (“one size fits all”), red stop sign (“Hold it up HIGH!”) and whistle. Big grin.

But today, in 2022, things look a little different. These days I carry an electronic pushbutton whistle because you can’t blow a whistle while wearing a mask. With so much school time lost because of the pandemic, our school is starting two weeks earlier — at the height of the summer heat. And this year, on our first day of school, every parent and teacher will still be reeling from the terrible school shooting in Uvalde.

These school preparedness questions are updated for 2022.

These are questions primarily for parents, but if you are in any way connected with schools or students, school security or health care, you’ll want to take a look.

In fact, after you’ve read the whole Advisory, you’ll see a link to a one-page summary of the key questions. It’s meant for you to download. Take it to school. Forward it to a friend who has children. We all need a better grasp of these issues.

Get answers to these preparedness questions from your school

I recently watched a video about our district’s School Safety Plan. It was a 2-hour presentation featuring school staff, local police and fire department representatives. It focused on what they called the threat of a “violent intruder.” Even after 7 years on the street out front, talking with parents, kids, teachers and the occasional police officer, I was amazed at how little I knew about how my school operates behind the scenes.

Of course, every school district and school is unique, so you may not have the opportunity to hear about your own local school’s safety plan.

Moreover, school or law enforcement personnel may be hesitant to answer your direct questions. They may not want to share details, they may be uncomfortable with preparedness issues in general, or they may simply not know the answers.

Still, these are your kids. Your taxes pay for schools and staff. If you feel good answers to your preparedness questions are not forthcoming, don’t be intimidated. Patience and persistence will pay off.

General school emergency policies.

  1. Policies. How do parents find out about emergency policies? Are materials available in different languages?
  2. Emergency contact forms for each child. How distributed? Where kept, under what security? How detailed? How often updated?
  3. Emergency communications. How will parents be notified in emergencies? (As crossing guard I made sure I am on the list to get emergency notifications, too.)
  4. Student pick-up policies. What are alternative pick-up locations if school has been closed? Who can pick up your child if school is shut down? How will they be notified? How will they be identified before your child is released? What if your child won’t go with them?

Emergency drills.

  1. Does the school face any particular threats because of its location? (near railroad tracks or airport, environmental hazards from industry, flood plain, wild animals, etc.)
  2. What trainings does the school hold? Does the school train for any emergencies other than fire or severe weather? (Earthquake, tornado, wildfire, bomb threat, active shooter?)
  3. Does the school train for evacuation as well as shelter in place?
  4. What should parents know about how these drills are called and how conducted?
  5. Who holds the training and how often? Are results of the drills evaluated and shared?
  6. Who is included in the drills? Substitute teachers, maintenance staff and bus drivers?

Emergency supplies and equipment.

  1. What food and water supplies are maintained in the school? How often refreshed?
  2. Do school busses carry any supplies?
  3. What food, water and hygiene supplies are in the classroom in case of extended lockdown?
  4. Where are first aid supplies located?  Do staff members get first aid training? Again, what about bus drivers?
  5. What emergency equipment is available? (fire extinguishers, AEDs, wheel chairs, etc.)
  6. Who is trained in equipment use?

Security features.

In recent years, many schools have made changes to provide more physical security. These questions cover some of the changes that can be considered or implemented. School budgets may limit making any of these changes. In some cases, these ideas may simply be inappropriate. But asking questions can lead to productive discussion. (Want more in-depth information on any of these features? Take a look at Security Magazine.)

  1. Does the school’s emergency communications system include direct connections to other classrooms? To law enforcement and/or emergency services? To other schools?
  2. Does the school have a trained Resource Officer? Is that officer always on the premises? Is the officer armed?
  3. Does the school have security cameras? Are they monitored? By whom?
  4. What about audio sensors to detect aggressive voices, gunshots, calls for help?
  5. Has the school made any changes to the way visitors are allowed onto the campus or into the buildings? (Open campus or one controlled entrance? Fences? ID badges?)
  6. What policies are in place regarding locked or locking doors? Who made these policies? How well are policies followed?

Getting back to business as usual after an incident.

Sometimes it’s easier to focus on immediate protective actions and overlook what it will take to recover once the event is over. A good preparedness plan will have procedures in place to help parents and students “get back to business as quickly as possible.”  We are learning, of course, that overcoming the trauma of a violent school disaster takes months if not years. We touched on that topic last week in our Advisory about gun violence.

Next steps for parents

List of emergency preparedness questions for parents

Share your list of questions with other parents and approach teachers and administrators for answers. Download and print this convenient one-page summary of School Preparedness Questions.

You may want to insist on special presentations on these emergency topics. Guest speakers could be school staff and a member of the police or fire department. You might volunteer to help design and put on parts of the presentation, yourself.

Presentations could be held on Back to School night, at a PTA meeting, and, of course, in the classroom. A presentation could be videotaped for later showing or showing online, as well.

Working together, schools, students, parents and other community members can keep emergencies from becoming disasters and do the best possible job of protecting students when disasters do occur.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. This list of “Preparedness Questions for Parents” deals primarily with the school. I am updating my list of “Preparedness Questions for Parents about Their Own Children.”  Watch for it coming soon!

Overwhelmed by the news? Or just stressed?

Image of pages from Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown, showing highlighting of key themes.

So much bad news over the past month! I have been overwhelmed.

As you have noted by now, I monitor emergency preparedness news all the time. TV, other writers’ blogs, and LinkedIn posts from professional emergency managers are some of my sources. I’m always on the lookout for ideas for Advisories. This past month, thought has been so full of emotional incidents that’s I’ve actually been overwhelmed by the news.

At the same time, add in stresses at the personal level.

I just had cataract surgery. Nothing life-threatening, but . . . fasting for an early morning appointment, being hooked up to an IV, knowing I’m “under the knife.” There’s no way to pretend that’s not stressful. And, of course, with only one eye to work with, my usual reading and writing habits are affected. (In my case, so I could plug into Audible books and iTunes podcasts, I had to conquer air pod technology. That in itself was a huge frustration!)

Have you been overwhelmed yourself by these same stories and developments?

Some of my friends have!

Late last month a long-time friend from college phoned me, and we spent a good 15 minutes trying to pinpoint exactly how we were feeling. It was a back-and-forth conversation, as we tried out and then discarded different descriptions.

Then, just 4 days later, my neighbor Carol and I were having pretty much the same conversation, standing on the sidewalk as she watered her roses. Again, a back and forth about how overwhelmed we were by the news. But it didn’t take long before Carol turned off her hose and ran into her house. Out she came with a new book all about emotions and the fine distinctions between them.

Oh, I love words. I love their history and nuances. I was smitten and promptly ordered my own copy!

So, my neighbor Carol’s recommendation became the source for this week’s Advisory!

Brené Brown is the author of Atlas of the Heart. You may already know her work, or have heard her well-known TEDx talk from 2010.

In this recent book, she lists and looks carefully at 87 different human emotions. Her theory, if I may sum it up, is that you can’t really experience life if you can’t describe it. Moreover, if you can’t describe life, you are pretty much lost when it comes to charting a new path forward.

The sobering reality, according to Brown, is that most people can only come up with about 3 emotions: “happy,” “sad,” and “angry” are the most common. How can ANY three words help me manage how I am reacting these days to surgery, gun violence, political upheaval, and natural disasters?! 

Are you, too, experiencing stress or overwhelm, or uncertainty or dread, or some other hard-to-pin emotion? Are you looking for some help in coping? Please consider getting your hands on this resource.

Yet another important book for this summer. I am so happy to have found it and to be able to share.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S.  As a taste of how Brown helps distinguish between different emotions, here’s the very first of the 13 lists she introduces. Are you feeling any of these? And are you sure of the differences between them?

  • Stress
  • Overwhelm
  • Anxiety
  • Worry
  • Avoidance
  • Excitement
  • Dread
  • Fear
  • Vulnerability

Brown adds another list of 7 more emotions that fit into this discussion of troubled times. Which of these might be an exact fit for what YOU are experiencing?

“The leading cause of death . . .”

In 2020 firearms overtook car crashes as the leading cause of death for children.
One line heads down, the other up. They cross. What’s what?

We’ve said before, awareness is a big part of being prepared. I think the information on this chart is something we all need to be aware of. Haven’t figured it out yet? Some hints:

  • The lines reflect facts about children in the U.S..
  • They trace causes of death from two sources.
  • They show the new (since 2020) leading cause of death for children.

Those should be the clues you need! But to make it very clear: The purple line shows deaths of children (ages 1-19) over the past 20 years from automobile accidents. (Measured in deaths per 100,000 children).
The green line shows deaths of children 1-19 over the past 20 years from gun violence. (Again, measured in deaths per 100,000 children.)

In 2020, for the first time, firearms surpassed car accidents as the number one killer of kids in the U.S.

Of course, you may immediately question this data. Why doesn’t it include info for the past two years? What role did parents play in these deaths? How many gun deaths were accidents, homicide, suicide? Etc., etc. Where do other causes, like cancer, fit into this chart? If you’re interested in more detail, see my remarks and links at the bottom of the page.

To start with, let’s just consider the purple line killer.

The number of cars in the U.S. has continued to creep pretty steadily upward to around 276 million in 2020. More and more cars. More accidents, too. But the proportion of children dying in auto accidents has come pretty steadily down.

If I were to give you 60 seconds to come up with why, I am sure you’d say something like:

  • Roadways are safer than ever: striping, passing lanes, barriers, signage, etc.
  • Cars themselves are safer: mirrors, seat belts, warnings, anti-lock braking, etc..
  • Driver behavior has been influenced by: licensing by age and type of vehicle, speed limits, DUI controls, etc.

O.K. I think we get what’s been going on with car safety.

Now let’s look at the green line killer in the chart.

The number of firearms has gone up just like the number of cars. (The rise is more dramatic, actually.) So why haven’t children’s deaths from guns gone down like they have for cars?

The answer is pretty obvious. No consistent improvements to gun safety. No consistent constraints on gun ownership and/or shooter behavior. I couldn’t even find two items to make a bullet list with!

Here at Emergency Plan Guide we’re interested in preparing for and managing or responding to emergencies – all kinds. We try to help people keep emergencies from turning into disasters.

Lately, as the leading cause of death, firearms have become a disaster if not a catastrophe for our children and their families.

What preparedness actions should we be taking against this threat? Which ones ARE you taking?

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Disclaimer:  I am not an expert on car or gun safety. My Advisory is not meant to be a scientific report. But that doesn’t mean I wrote it off the top of my head.

I did a fair amount of research on everything mentioned here (and a lot on history and statistics I don’t mention). One thing I discovered . . easy data on both car and gun deaths is hard to come by. Below are some of the sources I found to be useful and I trust credible. But as you read them, or any articles on these topics, note the following:

  • Children” are defined differently in nearly every different report, whether produced by law enforcement, the insurance industry, government agencies, educators, etc. Be sure you are clear what’s being measured.
  • Deaths” are often sub-divided as to homicide, suicide, accidental and unknown. People dying may be killed by law enforcement, a family member, an acquaintance, or a stranger – and the statistics may or may not reflect the type of shooter.

Online sources I can suggest for automobile death statistics:

Sources on gun deaths and children:

And finally, a resource that I found truly compelling.

Research may provide you with statistics, but just as in the case of Paradise, another book I reviewed lately, what brings the issue alive are the stories of real people.  Not the people who died, but the people who lived.

children Under Fire, An American Crisis, John Woodrow Cox

I recommend to you this book by John Woodrow Cox. It came out just last year and is a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

The New York Times says it is “a deep and painful accounting, built from intimate reporting, of the traumatic impact of gun violence on children who have witnessed it or lost a loved one to it.” 

You can get Children Under Fire in a variety of formats including audio. Here’s the link to the book at Amazon, where we are Associates.

I believe that Ava and Tyshaun and LB and the other children’s desperate stories provide us with preparedness actions to consider. And now, we have to add to their stories the stories of all the Uvalde brothers and sisters. Certainly, that incident has raised even more questions and suggested more actions.

Do you have a solid Business Contingency Plan?

Every project needs a safety plan as part of a solid contingency plan
Safety and security as part of the plan?

Since my goal for summer is a series of simpler Advisories, here’s another quiz – this one, for business owners. The quiz isn’t just a quiz, though. It’s designed to kick-start a “to-do” list (for all that free time you have this summer!).

The quiz is meant to get you thinking about your Business Contingency Plan. How solid is it, really?

Does it need reviewing? Updating? Maybe even completion because a few pieces are missing? Every improvement you make will give your business a better chance of avoiding an emergency and making it through if something does happen. We all know by now that without a workable plan, ANY emergency could blow up into a full-fledged disaster. Nobody needs that!

Let’s start with key elements of a solid business contingency plan. For example, does your Plan include  . . .

  • Evacuation policies (Who turns off what? Who keeps track?)
  • Adequate Shelter in Place supplies (What supplies? Where stored? How managed?)
  • Procedures for Work-from-Home employees (Equipment? Software? Security?)

Your Plan may be complete, but is it up to date? For example:

  • Have you updated your list of threats? New ones emerge every day! Cyber threats and financial challenges seem to be at the top of the list these days.
  • Does your communications plan alert not just employees and employee families but other key players (customers, suppliers, regulators, etc.)? What if the emergency happens over the weekend or on a vacation day? A solid business contingency plan takes a look at the latest communications technologies. They are impressive!
  • Given recent dangerous workplace incidents, should you update your security plan?

Often overlooked: Does your Plan consider Key Personnel?

  • Does every key position have someone trained as back-up? That includes you, as owner!
  • If a whole specialized team is suddenly knocked out (gets sick, for example), do you know where you’d hire a team of replacements – and where you’d put them?
  • Who understands what the competition might do if your business closes? Is that person prepared with appropriate public relations messages?

Where’s the money going to come from in an emergency?

  • How will you pay employees if the business is shut down? (Do they all have to be paid?)
  • How will you deal with rent, utilities, etc. (Can any be cancelled, at least temporarily?)
  • Will a business interruption trigger any fines for delays, broken contracts, etc.?

Does your Plan address potential legal exposure?

Are you doing what other owners in your industry are doing when it comes to planning for emergencies? If you don’t have a solid plan, could you be blamed for “negligent failure to plan?” You don’t need a lawsuit on top of your emergency!

This quiz is not a complete review!  There are many, many more questions that can be asked to help identify a solid business contingency plan. We hope that the quiz has reassured you. If it hasn’t, perhaps your “to-do” list now includes setting up a meeting with your emergency management team, or your insurance agent or attorney.

Did too many of these quiz questions make you uneasy?

You may want to take a closer look at your Plan. For easy-to-follow guidance, we recommend our latest book, Back Up and Running.

Book: Back Up and Running - DIY Emergency Preparedness Planning for Small Business

More like a workbook than a text, Back Up and Running is written for business owners without any contingency plan. It covers all the basics using a 10-day schedule.

One of the experts who reviewed the book described it as “VERY high level.” I take that to be a polite way of saying it sticks to the basics and doesn’t get off into detailed weeds. . . which is exactly what it was meant to be! Take a look a the the book here, on Amazon. For $10, you may find yourself relieved – or inspired. Either way, a worthwhile investment.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. As always, let us know what “hit the spot!” when it comes to your business!

P.P.S. If you’re interested in other Advisories for business owners, you might find these useful:

Summer Home Security Quiz

Gun-wielding threat to your family and home

Are you familiar with Nextdoor? It describes itself as a “social networking service for neighborhoods.” Local people sign up, list items for sale, exchange lost and found stories, etc. When I compare posts from earlier years with more recent ones, I realize that home security is a big concern for people this summer.

Every day on Nextdoor I see video footage from various front door cameras. The videos show strangers roaming neighborhoods, testing doors to see if they are open, stealing packages. We get images of thieves stealing catalytic converters at 2 am, and yesterday, it was a whole motorcycle! (Those guys were actually caught.)

I’ve written before about home security including home invasion. It just feels as though a reminder is in order. So if you have any misgivings about safety for the coming months, here’s this week’s short post:

Summer Home Security Quiz

How would you rate your current degree of “situational awareness?”

  • I figure that whatever is going to happen will happen so I really don’t worry about it.
  • I’ve changed a few habits, like parking in better-lighted areas and being sure the car is locked.
  • I pay attention and can tell when people or activities don’t fit into normal neighborhood patterns.

Have you improved perimeter security for your home?

  • Haven’t made any changes. I’ve lived here safely for years.
  • I have installed a doorbell video camera to see what’s going on outside my front door.
  • I have motion-activated lighting around my place and a monitored perimeter alarm system.

How do you respond to potential threats at the front door?

  • When the doorbell rings, I answer it. I don’t want to be rude.
  • When the doorbell rings, before I open the door I check to see if it’s someone I’m expecting. I don’t open the door if I don’t know or expect that person.
  • I have reinforced the door frame and front door locks to make it a whole lot harder for someone to force their way in.

Do you make any changes to your appearance depending on where you’re headed when you go out?

  • iPhone, Apple watch, new necklace – wouldn’t be seen without ‘em!
  • I carry my oversized purse (or my computer backpack) everywhere I go. Yeah, it weighs a ton, but I’ve got everything I need in there.
  • I am committed to change. I wear message T-shirts so everyone knows where I stand. I have political stickers on my car, too.

I think that by now you have got the message. What’s happening in your neighborhood today may not be the same as what was happening 5 years or even 2 years ago. Heck, you are not be the same as you were 5 years or even 2 years ago!

So now that summer’s here, and you and others are out and about more than you were over the winter months, it’s a good time for a reassessment. The quiz questions SHOULD have prompted your thinking about safety at events and in crowds. About home security. About personal safety.

Did you come across a couple of items that made you think, “Yeah, I really ought to do something about that . . .!”

If so, now’s the time to take action!

Let us know of other summer safety ideas or new summer habits that you would recommend.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. And watch for the next in our series of Short Summer Posts. Last week we talked about Events. This week is about Home. Coming up: summer posts for Motorists, Boy Scouts, and Property Managers — and more!

Safe at a Summer Event


A couple of years ago I participated in a “Blog Post Challenge.”  The idea was to exercise your writing muscle by posting frequent short articles rather than spaced out long ones. It feels to me that a replay might be a good idea. I mean, how else can we keep up with all that’s going on? So, here’s Summer Post #1, perfect for the first week of June: What’s your plan to be safe at a summer event?

Strolling through summer fair

Be Safe at a Summer Event

Heading for a local summer concert? A track meet? Golf championship? Fight night? County fair? Whatever your taste in big events, it’s worth reviewing what professionals recommend for keeping you and your family safer in these large-scale settings. (Download this Summer Event Checklist here.)


Of course, you may have planned this event for a while. But what about today: are there storms on the way? Possibility of rain? Power outage? Bring what you need to be comfortable.


If this event has been held before, has it been associated with any particular incidents that might happen again – like a protest, or a fight between fans, excessive drug or alcohol use? 


Will attendees be monitored? Will size of crowd be limited? Are you familiar with the location – for example, where best to park, location of food, restrooms? Areas where visitors aren’t allowed? Note all the exits from the venue. Take a look at a floor plan and/or map to identify exits and surrounding streets as possible alternates to the way you came in.


Will you need an official ID? Will your carry-in bags be inspected? What about security – uniformed? Where located? Who is in charge? Is there a medical or first aid center for the venue? A few judicious questions will give you a much better idea of what’s going on behind the scenes. Don’s hesitate to ask.

Food, beverages, and alcohol

What about safe food handling procedures? What about an alcohol policy? Plans for managing people who have had too much?

Your own family

If you have young children, do they know what to do if they get separated from parents? Are there accommodations for family members with disabilities? In an emergency, what’s your family plan for getting out and getting reunified? Do you all know where your car is parked???

The Safe at a Summer Event Checklist is just that – a general checklist that could apply to any event. If event security is really on your mind, here’s a second and far more comprehensive resource that addresses safety in specific settings. You could use it for yourself and also if you are part of a planning committee!

“What’s Your Plan?”

James A. DeMeo has written What’s Your Plan. He’s had a full career focused on security and law enforcement in both public and private sectors – and the table of contents of his book, below, shows exactly why I am including it here in this discussion of safety at summer events :

Do you ever attend events in venues listed above? Then grab this book. Read the appropriate chapter/s, if not the whole thing. Just as important, share with family and friends. Click on the image below to get the book at Amazon where we are Associates. (Even fuller disclosure: I don’t know Mr. DeMeo personally but I have exchanged messages several times with him on LinkedIn!)

Know more. Be more aware. Have a great and safe time at your summer events.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Again, you can download the PDF of the checklist right here. Make copies to share with friends and family.

Plan NOW for Extreme Heat

Hot sun coming up; gonna be a hot one today
“Gonna be a hot one today . . .

Official definition of Extreme Heat: Summertime temperatures that are much hotter and/or humid than average. That definition seems pretty innocuous, doesn’t it?

Let’s look a little deeper into definitions of “extreme heat:”

  • 2-3 days of temperatures above 90 degrees plus high humidity (Read the P.S. when you get there!)
  • a contributing factor to death (from heart attacks and strokes) and the underlying cause of twice as many deaths (from heat illnesses)
  • often results in the highest annual number of deaths among all weather-related disasters.

So why am I writing about planning NOW for extreme heat? Take a look at this weather forecast from yesterday at @US_stormwatch:

An unusually strong signal is showing up in the long-range for a long-lasting major heatwave in California as we head towards mid-June. Much can change given this is 10 days out, but this strong of a signal this far out is definitely concerning. Stay tuned.

And then I went to weather.com and saw this headline:

The weather forecast for summer: Summer Temperature Outlook: Hotter Than Average for Much of Lower 48

So it’s clearly time to plan NOW for extreme heat expected within the next couple of weeks or couple of months.

Planning to be cool and comfortable at home when these weather patterns manifest?

Nearly 90% of homes in the U.S. have air conditioning, and A/C is what will protect you at home during a heat wave. Moving a portable fan around with you works, too. And there’s always ice cubes in the bathtub.

But what are your plans if you don’t have A/C? Or if the power is off?

In last summer’s heat wave in Oregon, 94 people died in Multnomah County.

  • Most were over age 65.
  • Most did not have A/C.
  • And most were living alone, isolated in multi-family apartment buildings.

IF you fit any of these categories yourself, or have friends who do, you need to start planning NOW fpr how you will cope. Given global supply chain problems and rising inflation, if you wait to make essential purchases they will only cost you more!

Some questions to help your planning for extreme heat days.

How will you get the NEWS that a heat wave is coming?

Are you signed up to get weather alerts from your utility or your city or county?  Generally, they won’t automatically contact you. It’s up to you to get on their list.  If you don’t have access to the internet, call customer service at your utility and ask for assistance. (If you are on one of the utility special programs — low income or medical — find out NOW what help they will give you during a weather emergency or power outage.)

What changes can you make to your HOME now to help keep it cool?

Keeping the cool air in is as important as keeping the hot air out. Open windows very early to capture cool air, then shut everything up. If air leaks around your doors and windows, get busy with weather-stripping now, before the heat hits.

Consider whether some sort of reflective window film on windows could keep direct sunlight at bay. (Not all landlords allow this film.) The link takes you to an example of film that comes in multiple colors and is non-adhesive, i.e., easily removable.

If you can afford it, consider buying a room air conditioner. Note the distinction: a PORTABLE air conditioning unit, designed to cool one room or two, can cost around $350 (or more, of course). It probably weighs upwards of 50 lbs. and may be about the size of a large kitchen trash can.  A PERSONAL air conditioning unit sits on the table near you and cools — you!

Some examples of PORTABLE A/C units. (They roll into place.)

This image (not a playable video) is from the promo video of one of the largest portable A/C units, capable of cooling up to 500 sq. ft.. Note the hoses that exhaust air out through the nearby window. This unit has three functions managed by a remote: cooling, humidifying, or fan only. Click here to go to Amazon for full details (and to see the videos).

For comparison, here’s a link to another popular model. It is slightly more than half the size, has slightly more than half the cooling capacity and its price is — you guessed it, slightly more than half the price of the large model shown in the photo. Shop to get the right size for your needs. 

A PERSONAL air conditioner is meant to put on a table near you to cool just you.

These small appliances start at around $50. Add water (and ice cubes?) to turn the fan into a humidifier. Please note that SOME of the personal air conditioners do not meet air filter standards for California, so check before you order. The model below uses battery power — so would be good choice if you could potentially be hit by a power outage. Click the image to see details and current price at Amazon, where we are associates. Remember, summer is nearly here so prices may be changing on these weather-related items.

A simple tabletop electric fan can help, too.

Just remember, a fan creates air flow but doesn’t cool. If the temperature gets up higher than 95 degrees, a fan could increase your chances of getting sick with heat illness!

Simple fans can be round or flat or built like a tower. They usually have multiple speeds. If you want oscillation, be ready to add a few more dollars to the price. I like the simple fan below from Vornado. The manufacturer has literally dozens of different styles and colors – so you can find perfect gifts for summer celebrations! Click this link for details of this flat panel model.

What is your plan for keeping YOURSELF cooler in extreme heat?

It makes common sense to avoid going out in the heat. So make plans now to stick close to home if at all possible.  That way you can also dress VERY lightly, take a cool shower and even dampen your skin and clothes for extra cooling in front of that fan.

Drink plenty of water.

Avoid creating heat inside your house by having “hot day menus” that don’t involve cooking. Let the laundry go for a day or two. See if you can cut back on computer and TV usage, too – these appliances all generate heat.

What is your plan if the house simply gets too hot?

Start making a list NOW of buildings you know have good air conditioning and where you would have a comfortable place to sit if you went there. For example: library, city offices, mall.

Do you know where your utility or your city is likely to have established Cooling Centers? Cooling Centers are required in an emergency! Your challenge will be to find out where centers are open and whether they still have room for you.

Three immediate steps to take NOW for your personal preparedness plan.

  1. Go online NOW (or call your city) to get a list of where Cooling Centers are located. Figure out how far away they are and how best to get there.
  2. Get the phone number NOW of whom to call when the emergency hits, to find out which centers are open and their status. If you have a pet, be sure to ask about bringing your pet to the Cooling Center BEFORE you just show up.
  3. Write down the locations and the phone numbers and place this info NOW with your Emergency Go-Bag.

AND JUST IN CASE: Are you prepared to help yourself or others in the case of heat-related illness?

We’ve all been “overheated.” But when does “overheated” become life-threatening? Say you are checking on a neighbor, who doesn’t seem quite right. Knowing the levels of heat illness will help assess the situation. At the top, and most dangerous, is Level Three.

  • Level Three: Heat Stroke. Internal heat, no sweat, rapid pulse, confusion. CALL 911, cool down with shade, damp cloths, etc.
  • Level Two: Heat Exhaustion. Sweating, paleness, dizziness, nausea. Get into shade. Remove clothing. Sip cool sports drinks.
  • Level One: Cramps. Pains, spasms. Get into shade. Sip cool sports drinks with salt and sugar.

Download the full-sized pdf of this flyer here.

Well, I think we’ve covered extreme heat pretty well today, with some simple to-dos. And if you aren’t quite prepared, now is the time. Don’t let it be too late!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. The Heat Index calculator combines temperature and relative humidity to give you a better way to plan for potential danger. Just get the two numbers for your location and plug them into this calculator .

Prepare Your Community for Summer Power Outages

Flyer announcing program on summer power outages
Meeting coming up!

This week’s Advisory on power outages has a couple of possible uses.

  • You can use it to confirm or add to your own understanding of the topic. (I almost always seem to be in the “adding to” mode!)
  • It is also an Advisory that can serve as a kickstart for training others. In my case, “others” are my neighbors here in our senior community. Your training may be for a group of Scouts, or a church group, a school classroom, or a “lunch and learn” session with colleagues at work.

Since this week we actually did hold a meeting on summer power outages, I’ve laid out the Advisory so you can use it as a “lesson plan” for your own group!

Goal for this training session: Get people so involved that they go home and make some changes in their level of readiness!

Start with background material on summer power outages for your community (5-10 min)

According to the government, the average utility customer experiences only about 2 hours a year of power outages. However, when we count in “major events,” that average shoots up – to 8 hours in 2020 (latest year for statistics).

Ordinary interruptions are caused by weather and plants/tree limbs falling on or tangling up power lines. Other interruptions come from the utility’s “planned outages” for repairs. Still others are “rolling blackouts,” meant to relieve stress on a grid during a period of high demand.

OK, so those are familiar interruptions. A few minutes or a couple of hours now and then.

Unfortunately, you may have had experience with “major events,” too. We’ve written about some of them here: snowstorms, hurricanes and, of course, wildfires.

Because we just got a warning from our utility, we mustn’t overlook Public Safety Power Shutoffs. This 3 min. video tells the story — from the point of view of our local utility!.

PSPSs happen when the utility deliberately shuts off the power because high wind conditions threaten wildfires. Here in California, PSPS can last for hours or for as many as 7 days!

Conduct Group Exercise: “What stops working when the power goes out?”  (10-15 min.)

Needed:  Paper for everyone to write on. Pens. Easel/white board and a scribe with fat black pen to record answers. If necessary, hand-held microphone so leader can move from table to table to collect input. Items for “show and tell.”

Gather answers:

Pose the “What stops working?” question above. Give people 3 minutes to write down their answers. Table members can share and combine answers if they want. (We were surprised at the delay before people started writing! Maybe they had never considered this question before???)

Now, ask each table for its answers. Transmit them to the scribe so they are recorded in a way everyone can see them. Naturally, there will be duplication. Have the scribe add just new items as they emerge.

As the list of “What stops working?” grows, people will begin to call out more and more items. This is where it gets fun and creative! (Our group came up with these answers, shown here on the first two easel pages. Love those sticky backed sheets.)

Hand out FEMA flyer:

In preparing for this program, we found an excellent flyer produced by FEMA, downloadable here.

(Multiple printed copies are also available FOR FREE from the FEMA library. For my group I ordered 50 copies, along with several other publications, in a couple of languages. It took about 3 weeks for everything to arrive from the distribution center in Colorado.  Link to library: https://www.ready.gov/publications#: )

The FEMA flyer has two pages full of good tips. On the back, it suggests building a personal plan with three sections.

One: How to Prepare Now
Two: How to Survive During the Outage
Three: Be Safe in a Long-Term Outage

Start group members on building individualized three-part plans (1 min)

Have participants divide their own paper into three sections: Now, During and Long-term. Tell them to get ready to add “to-do” suggestions in each category as the group goes through its list of “what stops working.”

Go over details for every pertinent item in the list of “What stops working.” Cover what to expect and explore alternatives. This is the meat of the discussion! (35-45 min)

As leader, you may want to do some research in advance on particular items that you know are likely to come up. The FEMA flyer can be a start. Members of your group will also have experiences and knowledge to share. Finally, at the end of the evening, you may want to ask for volunteers to do further research for future sessions.

Some of the questions that arose in our group:

  • “Will my phone work in a power outage?”
    We discussed cell phones, portable phones, cable modem set-ups, hardwired phones – and all the various battery back-up plans offered by different providers. We also handed around power banks (flat ones, round ones, solar back-up) and car chargers. People wanted to know where to get them and what they cost.
  • “What about back-up power for medical devices?”
    In our senior community we have plenty of powered medical assistance equipment: power chairs and beds, CPAP machines, oxygen concentrators. We have discovered that SOME utilities offer free back-up equipment to people registered on medical “lifeline” programs. Some utilities offer back-up devices for sale. Every customer needs to do their own research. Here’s an example of a versatile power station that could work for several medical devices.
  • “What about prescriptions that need to be kept refrigerated?”
    Some of our new neighbors were unaware of how quickly food spoils when the refrigerator stops working. We emphasized stories of using food up quickly and efficiently. (You’ve heard about the Community Power Outage Picnic, right?). And no one in our group knew how long their refrigerated medicines would last without cooling! Suggestions were made about how to manage food in the refrigerator, and also how to be ready with a separate cooler for insulin, like this one  
  • “What’s the best lighting at night if the power is off?”
    Once again, we had plenty of examples: plug-in emergency LED lights, battery-operated collapsible lanterns, solar garden lighting, glow sticks, motion activated lights (sold for closets), and battery-powered candles. We repeated our usual warning: NO LIVE CANDLES in an emergency! (A home in our neighborhood burned to the ground last year because the resident fell asleep with candles burning . . .)
  • “How do we get out of this building if the automatic doors don’t work?”
    When this question came up, I turned off all the lights in the room! In the dark, we talked about the importance of knowing where ALL the exits are. People were reminded that doors with breaker bars are meant to be pushed open! (A power outage several years ago “trapped” some uninformed neighbors inside the building for a half hour!)

And when the meeting was over ?

At the end of the evening, people went home clutching various to-do lists. Most important, everyone had participated in identifying problems associated with summer power outages. Most had helped come up with do-able and affordable solutions.

We didn’t even get into the generator/inverter discussion for more comprehensive solutions to summer power outages. That will be perfect for a follow-up meeting!

Is all this familiar to you and your family? If so, congratulations. For community leaders, though, the question is, “Do all your neighbors know these power outage basics?” It’s worth spreading the word, because summer power outages are surely coming!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

As a woman in an emergency, are you in more danger than a man?

Woman faced with an emergency, looking scared and uncertain

Pretty much, yes. On the global stage, the answer is definitely yes. (I expect you knew that whether or not you’ve really considered the question before.) Today, we want to add a second question: What are you doing to improve your chances as a woman in an emergency?

Let’s take a look at some of what adds to a woman’s increased vulnerability. What of any of this fits you?

Sexism is alive and well.

Sexism and misogyny are in the news a lot lately. A whole lot. So it shouldn’t surprise you to realize that either or both play a role in keeping women more vulnerable in emergencies. Here’s a simple example of sexism at work, from my own life.

How are girls and women supposed to behave?

I had two older brothers and tagged behind them a lot. At one stage, I was quicker at running than they were. So I could actually score when we played football with their friends! But my MVP days came to an abrupt end at about age 12. Suddenly, it became clear I was growing up to be a girl.

Had I grown up in a different culture, I might never have been able to play ball with the boys in the first place. Instead, I might have been wearing clothing that kept me from running and kicking. I might have had responsibilities for younger siblings or for aging grandparents. In some cultures I might even have been facing marriage as my immediate future, instead of looking forward to college.

Now, these two short paragraphs are meant to describe extremes in childhood experiences. But the point is clear: growing up can be very different for women and men.

For a woman in an emergency, these cultural differences show up dramatically.

In New Orleans before Katrina, women and girls made up about 54% of the population. They had the primary responsibility of caring for family members including children, older people and people with disabilities. When the order to evacuate was given, 80% of the people left behind in New Orleans were women and girls who were unable to leave because of their caregiving responsibilities.

Do you know girls and women who have family obligations that would make evacuating more difficult and more dangerous? What “extra” steps should they be considering as they prepare for emergencies?

How do girls and women cope financially in emergencies?

The stereotype – and admittedly a stereotype – is that women look to be protected and men are expected to do the protecting. Historically, in the U.S., men owned everything so they naturally had to accept that responsibility. But even today, where ownership and responsibilities can be shared, the stereotype persists. Polls show that the public still looks to men for being the family’s financial support.

And the reality is, despite gains, women do still fall short financially. They continue to earn less, save less, and live longer.

So when emergencies hit, women generally have fewer financial resources with which to respond and recover.

Given these disadvantages, what can women do to improve their chances?

First and foremost, take on the responsibility for yourself!

I’ve written frequently about my senior community, which, as you might expect, is made up primarily of women. And I’ve been known to complain, from time to time, about the men who say, “Quit scaring the little old ladies!” as well as the women (and men) who say, “I’m just waiting for the firemen to come save me.”  (Yes, I know. “Firemen” and not “firefighters.”)  These comments reinforce some of the stereotypes I’ve discussed above!

Let’s assume you that aren’t one of the “little old ladies.”

Or maybe you are older but aren’t scared by thinking about preparedness. Maybe you have girls and young women in your world and want to help them break through stereotypes or peer pressures that are limiting their thinking.

Step one is to realize that as a woman in an emergency, you’re responsible for yourself.

Step Two is to develop more confidence about being able to take care of yourself in an emergency.

Just about everything we write about here at Emergency Plan Guide is aimed at this process! Many of the ideas are simple. Here are a few, with links to more resources. They should be familiar to you.

  • Get strong. Run, climb and play ball when you have the chance! Bike, swim and walk. Get strong. Stay strong – so you’ll be a lot more able to respond when necessary. (This is particularly important for older people.)
  • Expand your horizons! Learn more about what threats you could face. They could be financial. Or political. Maybe weather-related or climate related. You don’t have to worry about everything; focus on the top 5 or 6 that are most likely to impact you.  (I have a list of 97 different possible emergencies.  Let me know if you want a copy to go over with your family or group.)
  • Get informed. What can you do to prepare for the most likely emergencies?  Read a book about hurricanes or earthquakes or wildfires. Watch a couple of videos online. Talk to experts in your community.
  • Finally, take action! You may want to make some sort of  “Preparedness Calendar” and mark down one goal per week or per month. These are the kinds of things you could add to your calendar:
    • Pack a go-bag and learn about evacuation routes if you could be threatened by fire or flood.
    • Make plans to improve your home to withstand storms or winds or earthquake.
    • Go camping and learn to light a fire and cook outdoors.
    • Sign up for a course in home repair from The Home Depot, or first aid from the Red Cross, or take the full Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training from your city.
    • Really enthusiastic about outdoor survival? Attend a commercial survival school! (Due diligence is called for. I looked up a half-dozen such schools for women online, to get an idea of prices, curricula, etc. Unfortunately, 2 of the 6 sites got “caught” by my antivirus software as being compromised.)

There are so many interesting and fun things you can do by yourself or with other women or girls! Practice your leadership skills and and turn activities into “events” that will have a real impact on everyone’s competence, and confidence.

And a few final words about becoming a victim of human violence.

In a widespread disaster.

So here’s the reality. In emergencies, women can become targets. First, as mentioned, women may not be able to escape a disaster if they have children or family members to care for.

When women end up in disaster shelters or other temporary living situations, they can become targets for theft, coercion or sexual abuse.

Of course, you can’t avoid every emergency, and certainly not a wide-spread disaster. But the stronger you are physically, the more competent you appear and the more self-confidence you convey, the less chance you’ll have of being taken advantage of.

On a daily basis.

Develop better habits for personal safety, particularly if you live alone.

  • Do you carry a bulky open purse that could be grabbed, or do you use a cross-body purse that’s not likely to go missing?
  • At home, are you conscientious about keeping doors and windows locked? Have you set up timer lights and motion-activated lights to discourage unwelcome visitors?
  • Where do you keep your jewelry or money? Right there on top of your dresser or in your underwear drawer where every thief expects them to be?  Get creative about hiding valuables!
  • When you’re driving, do you know where you’re going? Do you know where you’ll be parking? Is your gas tank at least ½ full all the time?
  • Have you considered carrying a whistle or pepper spray to discourage unwanted attention? What about a course in self-defense?

Examine your current level of confidence. What you can do right NOW to give it  a boost?

I’ve crammed at least two dozen “action items” into this Advisory, hoping that one or two would strike a chord with you. Perfect would be if you responded with something like . . .“Virginia, I have always wanted to learn to do this! Thanks for the push!”

And of course, if you are already familiar with everything mentioned here, perhaps you can figure out a way to share or teach a survival strength to someone else – particularly a girl or woman. Teaching is absolutely the best way to improve both competence AND confidence for both teacher4 and student!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Let us know if you have a story of your own that helps make the point about the difference between being a man in an emergency and being a woman.

Paradise was a Test for Emergency Responders. Many failed.

Could you survive a wildfire like this?

Since you’re a reader here at Emergency Plan Guide, I’m sure you remember the fire season of 2018: the “deadliest and most destructive wildfire season on record in California.” You may even remember some of the statistics: nearly 8 thousand separate fires, nearly 2 million acres burned. And 100 people confirmed dead – with a possible 50 more never found.

But so much has gone on since then that you may have forgotten about the single worst fire of that worst year. The Camp Fire roared through the Northern California town of Paradise on November 8, in one day destroying 95% of homes and businesses and leaving 85 dead in its wake. Paradise was a test for Emergency Responders. And many failed.

Yes, you may have forgotten. But if you read the book I just finished, you will NEVER forget Paradise.

“Paradise: One Town’s Struggle to Survive an American Wildfire”
by Lizzie Johnson

How to describe this book’s impact on me? It was so compelling I read all day the day I got it. So intense I couldn’t sleep that night. Some images remain in my mind: walls of flame 200 feet high; children only vaguely visible in a school bus filling with smoke; propane tanks exploding like bombs; floating embers as big as dinner plates . . .as big as dinner plates!

People who were heroes. And people who made bad decisions. . . a lot of bad decisions.

Paradise is a must-read for people who can’t afford to make bad emergency management decisions. Here are some questions to identify who those people are and force them to think about the decisions they might make under similar circumstances.

Are you one of the people who could be tested by disaster?

Do you live at the wildland-urban interface?

There are more of you every year, and you are a target. At Emergency Plan Guide we’ve written more than once about the dangers of wildfire, and how to be smart about defending your property from it. We’ve even written about new technology for the professionals who fight these fires. But technology only gives you more options. Judgment is still the real difference between success and failure. And in a case like Paradise, between life and death.

As I write this, over half the states of the U.S. are in drought. There’s no longer such a thing as “fire season.” Rather, it’s fires year-round.

Everyone at the wildland-interface needs to know how to build, how to defend, how to evacuate when fire threatens. As you read how people struggled in Paradise, your own choices may become clearer.

Do you deal with particular sub-sets of your community, such as seniors? Children? People with disabilities?

Johnson’s research included digging deeply into the living conditions and also the mindset of the people who lived and worked in Paradise. You get to know these folks and their community. It was like many others. But it had some unique characteristics that played into the choices emergency professionals made.

One was a higher-than-average population of older people – 25% compared to the American average of around 15%. This meant more people in Paradise had health and mental limitations, and physical disabilities. When it came to evacuation . . .

  • They didn’t know the fire was coming. Few had signed up to receive emergency alerts. They were busy with life, not watching the news.
  • In Paradise and even here in my community, older people have lived through other disasters in their lives. They tend to figure they will get through this one, too. In fact, many simply refuse to consider evacuation.

Seniors stand to fail the test of responding to emergencies more often than other groups. What about the seniors in your life?

Are you connected to a health-care facility?

Some of the most powerful stories in Johnson’s book describe what happens as clinics and hospitals are threatened and overrun by the fire. Talk about heroes! But talk about impossible situations: not enough wheelchairs, much less ambulances. Patients too large or too ill to walk or even fit into a car. Ultimately, no power.

How confident are you in your facility’s evacuation and overall emergency response plans? Or in the plans of the facilities where you have family members?

City leaders, including professional emergency managers, struggle to balance politics with safety. In Paradise, they lost.

Paradise describes a history of town development, where decisions were made by various councils about paving, widening, and narrowing streets. About water supply. Code enforcement. Hiring. Economic considerations often won out over safety. And everything came into play during the fire.

One of the most difficult decisions was when and how to call for evacuation. For me, reading the details of those decisions was agonizing.

If you are a professional emergency manager, a First Responder, or simply a concerned citizen, you’ll find yourself wanting to make a checklist of things to look into for your own community. I did. My list contains over 35 items.

First Responders showed up. But things didn’t work as planned.

Johnson describes helicopter pilots unable to fly because violent downdrafts threatened to smash them into the mountainsides. Police officers directed traffic without understanding where they were sending people. Communications between different departments didn’t always work.

Some Incident Commanders were up to the job. Others weren’t sure, and waffled.

Paradise can be a mini-study in how mutual aid works – and sometimes doesn’t.

And last. But perhaps first in importance: what can you expect from your utilities?

The Camp Fire was determined to have been caused by PG&E, the largest utility not only in California but in the nation. PG&E pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter, admitting that a spark from a 91-year-old transmission line started the fire. (Interestingly, the utility had previously warned that power might be shut off. Later, though, they claimed that conditions that day did not meet the company’s criteria for emergency shut-off.)

Does your utility do “Safety Shut-offs?” Under what conditions? What do you know about the history, maintenance and current condition of your utility’s grid? What plans do they have for back-up in an emergency? The same questions apply for your communications providers.  

These are only some of the urgent questions that filled my mind as I followed the increasingly desperate stories of individual Paradise residents. As each profile developed, I kept wondering – “Is THIS person going to end up being one of the 85 dead?”

I urge you to read Paradise yourself, as a citizen, community leader, or emergency response professional. You will be captured and inspired by Lizzie Johnson’s moving narrative. You will also be tested as to your own level of preparedness and readiness to respond. Please don’t wait.

Click on the image to order now from Amazon.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Scams and fraud — How well are you protected?

Padlocks to defend against scams and fraud
Got all your defenses up???

I got a speeding ticket in my first new car. Headed to traffic school to avoid a point on my license. The only thing I remember from the class was this question from our instructor. “Raise your hand if you think you are a better than average driver.” And the response! So, switch to today. . .

Raise your hand if you think you are better than average at detecting scams and fraud.

In researching for this article, I came across so many interesting statistics! Three of my favorites:   

  1. Around half of people contacted by a scammer engage with them. (Better Business Bureau) 
  2. In general, the older the victim, the more money they lose. In 2021, average loss of senior victim was $18, 246! (FBI)  
  3. But younger people are twice as likely to be scammed as older people – because they respond without thinking to online offers!

Even if you don’t fall into any of these categories, you should be aware that losses to fraud are going up FAST! (70% increase in 2021!)

So it seems to be the right time for a review of what’s been working for scammers. The more you know about latest developments, the better protected you’ll be.

Let’s start with a couple of very basic “tests” to see how aware you really are.

You’ve been searching for a new jacket online. You start seeing “retargeting” ads — the ones that follow you based on earlier searches. Suddenly up pops an add for your favorite jacket at an amazing 50% off – today only! Limited supply!

You go for it! The link takes you to a familiar-looking website. You fill in your credit card and get the purchase confirmation. Everything seems fine . . . until that jacket never arrives. Your credit card account has been maxed out. And nowhere do you find a “customer service” number for help!

Let’s examine this scam example to see what you might have missed.

Of course, if you were among the “better than average” online shoppers, you might already have checked for these.

Test #1: Does the website name start with http:// or with https:// ?

HTTP, the “Hyper Text Transfer Protocol,” carries data between your browser and the website you are connected to. When “S” is added, that means a security layer has been added via encryption. Every legitimate website that “sells” things, or that collects personal information, should have this secure protection. (It’s easy to add; the cost varies depending on what level of security is required.)

Test #2. Are you really at the right website?

Because you’re one of the experts, you’ve noted whether the site you arrive at is Yoursafesitesale.com or –Whoops !– should it actually be Yoursafesitesale.net?

Test #3. Look again. Are you really at the right website?

Finally, you take just one more look to be sure that this is actually the site you thought you were going to. The name of the site is listed twice on the ad. But ONE of those links is fraudulent! Do you see which one?

(Ha, ha, I made this illustration myself so it’s really pretty hard to notice the discrepancy. But keep looking until you see what “wrong” with that link. Still no luck? “Answer” is at the end of this Advisory.)

Let’s move on from these detailed examples to ways that they are used for top scams and frauds “in action” today.

Message from your bank

Scammers use the same techniques that we’ve already described, getting you to click on a link from “your bank” that takes you to a fake but very familiar-looking website where they ask you to confirm your account number, your login, etc.

This scam may even include a telephone call prompting you to share the same information.

If you receive an email or a call from your bank, do not respond via the message. Instead, go directly to the bank’s website and log in the way you normally do.

Zelle transfer into fake Zelle account

Selling something online? A buyer may insist that you use a Zelle transfer. The entire transaction will end up being accompanied by a fake confirmation from “your bank” that “their deposit” has been made. You ship the item.

Of course, they have never sent you anything except fake emails.

Note: Zelle is a legitimate company that makes it easy to transfer money from account to account – certainly, to friends and family. But think twice if strangers want you to use it. There are other ways to get paid.

“Uh, oh. You have a problem” messages from known companies or organizations

There is no reason for your bank to send you an SMS text about your credit card being blocked. Amazon doesn’t call to let you know “your purchase has been approved.” Utility bills may seem high, but no representative will offer to “stay on the line with you so you can make a payment right now.”

And the IRS writes letters. It doesn’t call unless you’ve made an appointment.

Long-running scams based on human nature

Scammers know all about how to inspire fear, greed, hope and sympathy. Some of the most persistent scams are built around these emotions. Under the right circumstances you could get caught.

  • False charities: “Support the orphans of the war in Ukraine”
  • “Fill out this survey and be entered to win an iPhone!”
  • “Grandma, help! I’m in Baja California and I’ve been arrested!” (I got this one!)
  • “Can you help me out by buying some gift cards?” (Two of my neighbors got this one.)
  • “Lonely? Looking for a new friend?” (Romance fraud is the second most costly fraud of all.)

And some especially popular frauds from 2020 and 2021

  • Fake auto warranties and fake calls from car insurance companies
  • Technology “alerts” (“We’ve detected a problem with your computer . . .”)
  • Social Security and Medicare (“. . . need your social security number to check . . .”)
  • Cryptocurrency fraud and scams (So many tricky ways to lose money here it demands its own full article. A couple of the scam names give you an idea: “Pig butchering,” “Pump and dump,” “Rug pulls,” and “Airdrops.”)

Is there a reliable way to protect against scams and fraud?

With so many threats out there, it’s hard to know just what to do. The FBI and other anti-fraud organizations provide these recommendations. I’m sure you’ve heard them all before. The trick is to keep them always in mind!

  1. Don’t click on links in strange emails or even open them in the first place without closely examining the return address, the signature, the language – and the offer.
  2. Don’t answer phone calls from strange numbers or even from what look like local numbers. Let whoever’s calling leave a message.
  3. If you get a call or a message telling you about “an urgent problem,” hang up. Take the time to call the organization yourself, from a number you know is good.
  4. If the deal sounds too good to be true . . . well, you know about that!

If I’ve been scammed or defrauded, can I get my money back?

As always, it depends. But you need to start by knowing the difference between a fraud and a scam.

Fraud. If someone gets access to one of your accounts and makes a payment or withdrawal without your permission, and you were not involved in any way – that is considered fraud. Report it to the appropriate authorities. You will typically be able to get your money back.

Scam. If, however, you were involved in any way in the transaction – even if you were tricked or misled – that is a scam. You may not be able to get your money back. (There may not even be any “appropriate authority” to report to.)

With this knowledge, you can head to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where next steps are listed for victims of a variety of different scams and frauds.  https://www.consumerfinance.gov/consumer-tools/fraud/

Still raising your hand as “among the best” at detecting and avoiding scams and fraud? Congratulations! Maybe you can share your own best practices with the rest of us?

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. If you didn’t quite see the difference between the two links in the 50%-off ad, it is hidden in the second link. See that “a” in the word “safe?”  Compare it to the “a” in “sale.”  Two different typefaces for the same letter?! Not likely! (I couldn’t even get WordPress to let me “misspell” it here!)

P.P.S. I checked. About 2 years ago I wrote an Advisory on some of these same topics. The statistics were a whole lot less shocking, though! And that article touches on Identity theft, another aspect of fraud. You may want to check it out here: https://emergencyplanguide.org/protect-yourself-from-identity-theft/

Should we prepare for a nuclear emergency?

Image of explosion, a nuclear emergency.

After several years of quiet about accidents or attacks involving nuclear energy, suddenly we find it again in the headlines. In Ukraine, a nuclear emergency was threatened when the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was hit by a Russian missile and experienced an explosion and fire. That situation may have been contained, but the danger isn’t over. And as I write this, European countries and allies – including the U.S. – are considering how to respond to Russia’s threat of using nuclear weapons in its bid to take over Ukraine.

At the same time, from the other side of the world, we hear that earlier this week North Korea conducted its largest intercontinental ballistic missile test ever. It looks as though this newest weapon might be able to deliver nuclear warheads anywhere in the United States.

So the headline on this Advisory isn’t meant to be a scare tactic. It IS meant to make sure your general preparedness knowledge includes a better understanding of nuclear emergencies!

Important: know the difference between a nuclear accident and a nuclear attack.

Each of these could be considered a nuclear emergency, but there’s a big difference in how you might have to respond.

  • Accidents to nuclear reactors have been caused by earthquakes, tsunamis and mistakes by people running the plant. When for whatever reason the cooling fails, it follows that equipment overheats, pipes burst and ultimately the reactor “melts down.” Radiation can be released into the air and the “plume” is spread by the winds.
  • A deliberate attack with a nuclear weapon could have a much greater impact. Even a small “tactical” weapon could cause a violent blast and fireball followed by an immediate release of radiation into the air. A full-fledged atomic bomb could repeat what happened in 1945 at Hiroshima. We’ve all seen those mushroom pictures.

Preparing for a nuclear emergency is pretty straightforward.

If you are caught in the middle of an explosion, there’s not much you can do to protect yourself. There’s a reason why nuclear weapons aren’t used in war.

But if you have any warning at all, here are the steps as recommended by the U.S. Government.

First, protect yourself from the blast itself!

If you are caught outside without warning, and you see the flash, get down! Face into the ground, keep your hands under your body. Protect exposed skin from heat and debris. As soon as possible, get up and take shelter to protect yourself from the radioactive fallout that is on its way.

Immediately get into to the nearest building. Head to the basement or to an interior room with no windows. Brick and cement block buildings are safest. Bring your pet in, too. These reminder images come from the CDC.

Next, get inside. Your goal is to be inside before the fallout arrives!

Fallout is like dust. It floats and ultimately comes down onto the ground. Whatever it touches it contaminates. Fallout gives off the most radiation in the first few hours after the blast. As time goes on, it weakens.

To repeat, seek out shelter below ground or in the middle of a building. Close windows, block fireplace, turn off A/C and fans to keep fallout from getting in.

If you were outside and believe you have been contaminated, as soon as you are safe inside remove your clothing and wash skin and hair with plain water. Gently wash pets, too. Seal contaminated clothing in plastic bags.

Once inside, plan to stay inside until the “all clear” is sounded. Assume at least 24 hours.

Sheltering in place after a nuclear emergency means . . .

  • Do NOT try to reunite with family – going outside may contaminate or re-contaminate you!
  • Be sure you have an emergency crank or battery-operated radio so you can get the news and hear the all-clear.
  • Use supplies of clean food and water – NOT food or water that may have been exposed to radiation!

If you live in a “target location” for a deliberate nuclear strike, don’t wait. Take action now to prepare for a nuclear emergency.

A target is most likely going to be a military installation or a nuclear reactor. We have more than 90 nuclear power plants in the U.S., and over 4,500 military installations.

  1. Find out if you live or work near a target! You can search for “military bases near me” to get Google’s local map with red pointers. And you can find a map showing nuclear power plants here:   http://www.nrc.gov/info-finder/reactor/ Most reactors are in the eastern part of the U.S.
  2. Find out your local government’s “emergency plan” for a nuclear disaster at the target location. The plan probably involves evacuation.
  3. Have a Go-Bag packed so you can grab it if evacuation is called. Hopefully your car is half full of gas or fully charged.
  4. If evacuation is unrealistic, be ready to seal yourself into your house.
  5. Have a supply of potassium iodide (KI). It can help block radioactive iodine from being absorbed by the thyroid gland. The thyroid is the part of the body that is most sensitive to radioactive iodine. Potassium iodide is nonprescription and FDA approved. You’ll need enough for every family member for several days. Pills cost around a dollar each.
  6. You may want a way to measure radiation levels. Our bodies can manage exposure to low levels of radiation. Very high levels can cause immediate burns and sickness, as well as long term health problems including cancer.

Here are some products we have researched and recommend as potential additions to your emergency supplies. Click on links to get current prices and full details at Amazon, where we are Associates.

KI tablets, USP, 130 mg. 14 count. 

As you are shopping, consider the make-up of your family, and whether it would be easier for you to have smaller tablets (adults take two, child takes one) or even liquid (would have to be mixed with something). This is an inexpensive item so get a big enough supply that you don’t have to worry about running out. (Click on link above the image to get current price and how to use. These items go quickly; there are other options if these tablets are out of stock.)

For a better understanding of what’s going on around you, consider a radiation detector. Prices at Amazon range from under $20 to well over $500 so be sure to shop carefully!  Here are two examples. The first one, a simple card, would be very handy; it doesn’t require any maintenance or batteries.

Personal Radiation Detector for Wallet or Pocket

RADTriage FIT Personal Radiation Detector for Wallet or Pocket, Nuclear Radiation Detector, Electromagnetic Field Radiation Detector, Anti Radiation Dosimeter, Ready-to-Go Portable Radiation Detector. Store in refrigerator and lasts for years.

Full Featured Geiger Counter with LED readout and Audio Alarm

GQ GMC-500Plus Geiger Counter Nuclear Radiation Detector Monitor Dosimeter. Two tubes detect wide range of levels; lithium battery. Click link above the image for full details at Amazon.
Be sure to read the useful comments from purchasers!

Older folks know all about preparing for a nuclear emergency. If you’re younger, this may be new.

Please share this with the right people. And pick up supplies that make sense for you. I hope we’ll never have to test your preparedness on this one.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Preparedness for Older Adults

How well will they fare in an emergency?

I expect you are in much the same boat as I am. That is, as older adults, when it comes to preparedness much of what we learn about is theoretical or purely academic. Even with lifetimes behind us, few of us have ever personally had to give someone CPR, or run from a tsunami, or forage in the woods for food.

Over the past three weeks, though, we’ve been witnessing a situation in Ukraine that, while unfamiliar to most of us here, has entered our consciousness with exceptionally strong and vivid emotion.

As a senior citizen, I find my eyes drawn to the older people in all the pictures.

Unsteady on their feet, needing a hand to keep upright on a slippery bridge. Lying against a wall, exhausted. Struggling to carry their one bag of possessions while holding on to a hand or arm or a railing.

I can’t help but think about what would happen to my neighbors here in our community if we were forced to endure such conditions. And, naturally, my thoughts and observations lead into an Advisory.

What can older adults do to be better prepared for emergencies?

First, we can try to be in better physical shape!

Being isolated at home during Covid hasn’t helped. But many of my neighbors have pretty much stopped working or even walking – unless they have pets!

I am lucky to serve as an elementary school crossing guard. I get in at least two solid hours of standing and walking every day! At the same time, I know my balance isn’t as good as it once was. And at home I certainly have trouble getting up off the floor.

Do these limitations fit anyone YOU know?

Muscle is important. In the 2017 fires in Santa Rosa, CA, seniors died because they didn’t have the strength to open their garage doors when the electricity failed! And we’ve seen images of people on their roofs in Texas, escaping from flooding. Could you climb up to your roof?

I have discovered what I think is an excellent series of exercise videos for seniors. Prepare to meet Bob and Brad! They are somewhat goofy but their advice works! Here’s their 13 minute video from YouTube:

Second, we can think through what it would take for us to walk any real distance or wait in line for hours.

Obviously, if you have difficulty walking, part of preparing for emergencies is to have already made plans for assistance. For everyone, here are some aids to consider.

I would need a pair of really sturdy shoes. (I already know this because of my crossing guard duties.) Every one of my emergency kits – my Go-Bag and my car emergency kits – has shoes and socks among the very first items to be packed.

Older adult taking a drink of water while resting on bucket seat.

What about a way to rest, without having to sit or lie on cold or wet ground? This week our neighborhood group is looking at the value of using ordinary 5-gallon buckets as containers for emergency supplies. With the addition of a simple cushion, a bucket can become a seat, giving you a chance to take a rest, manage a drink of water — without having to struggle to your feet when the rest is over. (Foldable golf stools are great, too, though awkward if you’re boarding a vehicle.)

A back-pack allows you to carry your stuff and have both hands free, to reach for help or to offer it. A rolling cart may tie up one hand and arm, but you wouldn’t have to actually carry anything. As for a suitcase? Most seniors can’t carry one!

Third, we must rethink. What is the absolute minimum we want to carry with us in an emergency evacuation?

This is the most difficult list to come up with because each of us is so very different.

Here are some general ideas to consider.

  • Prescription medicines – as much as you can carry. In turbulent times you’ll have no way to get a refill. (We’ve talked before about pressuring your doctor for extra pills.)
  • Extra eyeglasses and/or hearing aids. Your safety and certainly your comfort depend on these aids. Again, in an evacuation setting there will be no way to get replacements.
  • Phone and power bank. Who knows where you’ll find a free electrical outlet with electricity? The power bank will recharge your phone at least 3 or 4 times.
  • Flashlight and/or headlamp for moving about in the dark. If you are in a strange place, or even a familiar place that has been damaged, moving without being able to see is a recipe for injury.
  • Small emergency radio (with batteries) to have a chance of knowing what’s going on.

All the items mentioned above so small they would probably fit into just one or two Ziploc bags. So what will you do with the rest of the room in your carrier?

Here are specifics that may be more important for older adults.

  • Important original documents THAT ARE NOT REPLACEABLE. Think again. Most documents these days can be replaced with time and effort so don’t stuff you evacuation bag with paper. The best way to handle all important documents is to scan them onto a flash drive. Easy to carry, easy to access when you are settled again. Has to be prepared in advance, of course.
  • Items to keep you warm. Have you used chemical hand warmers? They are about the size of a tea bag. They last for hours. We have several boxes around the house.
  • Extra socks and underwear. What YOU need to feel presentable and confident.
  • Items for personal hygiene: baby wipes, toothbrush and toothpaste. I always carry lip balm. Joe and I always carry toilet paper (partial rolls, flattened for more efficient packing). Plastic bags of different sizes for trash, to sit on, to separate dirty from clean.

Even adding all the above, you will still have room to spare. It’s at this point you may want to pack something you love, for comfort – a photo, a stuffed animal, a favorite book.

If you’d like a copy of our Evacuation Go-Bag list for older adults, drop me an email and I’ll send the list along. We updated it in 2020 after our close call with a wildfire.

Finally, take responsibility for yourself.

Some years ago the American Red Cross published “Disaster Preparedness for Seniors by Seniors.” If you’ve been reading our Advisories, you will already have been exposed to nearly everything in that booklet.

What I like best about this booklet, though, is the very first chapter. It is entitled, “Take Responsibility.” Its last sentence sums up how we approach preparedness for older adults:

“Knowing what to do is your best protection and your responsibility.”

I trust you agree!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. More about buckets coming soon. . .along with another meeting idea that your neighborhood group will enjoy!

P.P.S. You will notice that I’ve included quite a few links in this Advisory — more than usual. That’s because these are items that I think you absolutely must have ready in your emergency kits.

Totally unexpected? Not!

explosion and fire in urban setting
OMG! What’s happening in Ukraine???

This past year we’ve seen image after image of people emerging from the debris after tornados, trapped in long lines of cars to avoid a hurricane, escaping from a burning building in the midst of alarms and smoke. Were all these disasters totally unexpected? No!

Today, we are seeing more disaster images – people trying to escape sudden danger in Ukraine. And yet, that situation wasn’t totally unexpected, either. Let’s take a look.

The first images I saw yesterday were of Ukrainians who had rushed into underground subway stations to avoid explosions.

They were jammed in but seemed warm enough, and calm. Still, I didn’t see any supplies that would keep them comfortable for hours. Did you have the same questions I do?

  • Do they have anything to eat?
  • What about water?
  • What about babies with no formula?
  • How were hundreds of people able to use the toilet?
  • Did they have any idea of what was going on above ground?

Today, the next day, the danger is no longer totally unexpected. People are taking action to protect themselves.

Today the news shows people fleeing Ukraine for neighboring countries. Some are walking across the border, abandoning household and pets “just to get somewhere safe!” Some are running out of gas in long lines of cars stretched across the countryside. Others, deeper inland in Ukraine, are crowding onto train station platforms, hoping to get a place on an outbound train.

Today, most of these people have a suitcase or backpack. But what about their future?

  • How long will it take for them to get across the border?
  • What will happen when they arrive?
  • Where will they go? Or where will they end up?
  • What about family members who have gotten separated?

I have questions about the people we don’t see in the news.

Those left behind. Those who are unable to walk or who have no money for trains or simply no place to go to. How are they faring now? What will happen to them in coming days?

Most of these questions remain unanswered as of right now. But the message for this Advisory is . . .

Emergencies aren’t always “natural disasters.” And they seldom are totally unexpected.

What’s going on today in Europe is a good reminder that there are many, many events that can result in emergencies. (In our business books we list 97 different threats!) But few of them should be totally unexpected.

It’s also a good idea to remember that many emergencies require the same or a very similar immediate response.

Of course, we can’t possibly be prepared for everything, but we can surely be prepared for an immediate response to whatever hits.

Here at Emergency Plan Guide we’ve examined that immediate response many times. A quick summary:

  1. The more we pay attention – to the weather, the news, political developments, etc. – the more likely we’ll have time to pack up some essentials in case things come apart. Having a Go-Bag already packed keeps you from being one of the victims that ends up stuffing some clothes into a pillowcase or plastic bag and having to make do with that!
  2. Having a family plan for re-connecting during or after an emergency can keep family members focused on immediate needs instead of spending valuable time worrying.
  3. Building a store of essential emergency supplies means that empty shelves in stores won’t terrify you. (We’ve heard that stores in Kyiv are already empty . . .) Supplies need to include non-perishable food, water, warm clothing, lighting, prescriptions, list of emergency contacts.
  4. If you have imagined and talked over how you might respond to expected emergencies – power outage, storm, riot, nuclear accident, hazardous chemical spill, whatever – you’ll have more confidence that you’ll be able to respond. Practicing with your basic emergency tools – radio, lantern, cookstove – will add more confidence. So will having a tank full of gas.
  5. Should you take some basic preparedness actions now?

Mindset makes all the difference to effective preparedness.

The more Joe and I are active in the world of emergency preparedness and response, the more importance we give to mindset or attitude! What a huge difference between a wild-eyed “What shall we do???” and a firm “We can handle this!” 

Emergencies are part of life, to be expected. When they are anticipated, you’ll be far more able to get through them without them turning into a disaster.

Let’s treat the current situation in Ukraine as a valuable reminder of preparedness essentials.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. I know you know, but if this is a good time for a review, don’t forget our mini-series booklets.  They’re laid out with questions and answers. Easy to read, easy to get ideas from. Here are a few that might be particularly helpful for this review:

Pre-Disaster Plan. Number 1 in our series because it deals with the toughest challenge of all – getting started on a plan. Major emphasis on coping with disaster when you or other family members are not at home. https://amzn.to/3aEswjk

Emergency Cash. How much cash do you need to shelter in place? To evacuate by car or train? Where to get cash/money and how to store it? https://amzn.to/2VNLm2X

Custom Go-Bags. Able to take you and your family through the first 3 days of an emergency – as long as the bags are customized AND ready to be grabbed. https://amzn.to/2vEmrow

There are 10 more titles in the series. You can see them all here.

Fire! Fire! Quick, the extinguisher!

Fire extinguisher in smoke - Will it work?

Suddenly, a commotion down the hall – you hear screams, then shouts: “Fire! Fire!”

First reactions might be: “Get out now!” or maybe “Take the stairs!”  But someone (you!) should respond with:

  • “Where’s the fire extinguisher?”  and then,
  • “Will it work?”

If you can answer “Yes!” to “Will it work?” you may be able to keep a fire from becoming a disaster.

Here at Emergency Plan Guide, fires and fire prevention are a frequent theme.

For example:

  • In California, wildfires threaten all year long. We’ve addressed them often, including introducing a new way to provide local water on demand for firefighting helicopters.
  • Just last month we touched on the urban apartment house fires where smoke alarms didn’t work. This led to more info about alarms, their batteries, etc.
  • Last year we shared pictures of senior citizens testing their skills using the laser training extinguisher system from Lion. (That training was excellent, and fun. We asked our seniors came to that meeting carrying their home extinguishers. Then we found, and compared dates of manufacturer. The “winner” had an extinguisher dated . . . 1994!)

But let’s go back to the people hearing “Fire! Fire!” – the situation we described in the very first sentence.

Since you’re reading this, we can assume that if you heard this you would know where to find the nearest fire extinguisher. We would LIKE to be able to assume you know how to use an extinguisher. (Check out the laser training Advisory, mentioned above.) The question we can’t answer, and we suspect you may not be able to answer either, is . . . “Are you sure this extinguisher will work?”

I can’t find any “official” statistics about failure. (Odd, actually. I wonder why not? I’ve got a clue – coming up later.) But I heard a sobering interview with a retired police officer. Here’s pretty much what he said. “I’ve arrived at around a dozen car fires, grabbing the extinguisher in the squad car. But then, because my extinguisher gave out after a couple of seconds, I stood there helplessly watching as a fire that should have been easily extinguished burned that car completely up.”

Seems to me there must be a better way to know if the extinguisher will work. And this month I believe I’ve found one.

There’s a lot to this investigation. Here are the questions I asked, and some answers I’ve been able to come up with.

Why can’t we count on fire extinguishers? Main reasons seem to be:

  1. The pressure gauge may say “OK” but extinguisher may be “dead.”
  2. The chemical powder inside the extinguisher has moisture or compacted and won’t discharge even if there is pressure.
  3. The canister is rusted, or the rubber hose has decayed; they come apart in your hands. Extinguishers with plastic components seem to be particularly vulnerable.
  4. The user may never have practiced switching hands to pull the pin, aim the hose and squeeze, etc.

But I thought extinguishers were inspected?

Sure, OSHA has clear inspection and maintenance requirements for the workplace. (But do people do them at home?) Here’s what I learned about caring for an extinguisher.

  • Every month should start with a “visual test.” Is the extinguisher where it’s supposed to be? Visible and easy to grab? Pressure gauge in the green? Any obvious damage? Is pin in place?
    • What to watch for? (1) Homeowners store their extinguishers under the kitchen sink. WAAAAY under. They fail this first test. (2) Apartment house owners discover that the cabinets, where extinguishers are supposed to be, are empty.
  • Once a year, extinguishers in commercial use are supposed to be serviced by state licensed technicians. This means examining and repairing any potential problems with handles, hose, nozzle, etc.
    • What to watch for? My research found that sometimes technicians add repairs and items that may not have been necessary. But since business owners seldom really check their bills, they just end up paying them!
  • Every 5-6 years (sometimes every 12 years, depending on type of extinguisher) professional service companies test the container itself. They discharge the extinguisher, take it apart, then reload and re-pressurize it. This takes time and requires special knowledge, tools and supplies (new extinguishing agent).
    • Coming up: More on how this may not be as effective as you’d think!

So how long does a fire extinguisher typically last?

The “answer” here seems to depend on a number of things: the quality, type and size of extinguisher, its environment (stored inside? outside?), etc. The NFPA makes this general statement: “ . . .,rechargeable fire extinguishers must be recharged every 6 years, whereas disposable extinguishers must be replaced every 12 years.“

So the first thing to know is whether you have a disposable or a rechargeable extinguisher. (Most homeowners have disposable models because they are easier to find and less expensive to buy. More about price, below.) A disposable extinguisher has plastic components; the rechargeable extinguisher has a metal cap and valve.

Check the age of your disposable extinguisher!

Find the manufactured date (on the label or on the bottom – always tiny print!). If it’s 15 years old, dispose of it and get a new one!  (Remember our senior citizen clutching the extinguisher manufactured in 1994??) 

What about a rechargeable extinguisher?

When your rechargeable extinguishers are properly maintained, they’ll last a lot longer. Still, you’ll be paying for the maintenance services. And when the rechargeables reach the age of 12 years, they’ll have to “pass” even more stringent and costly tests if you want to keep using them safely.

Warning. In my research, I discovered references to “fire extinguisher service companies” that were not only adding fraudulently to their bills, but weren’t even the licensed services that companies thought they had a contract with! Be sure to check!

Second Warning. Even when your extinguishers are being recharged, you may not be getting what you are paying for. The problem? Some service providers may not be refilling your extinguishers with the proper chemical agents. A 2020 test of 100 extinguishers (from different manufacturers, different service companies, etc.) by Dyne Fire Protection Labs found that 9 out of 10 had been re-filled with something other than what the extinguisher manufacture called for! Obviously, the wrong “mix” may mean the extinguisher may not operate as designed. After a fire you’d sure hate to have the official report claim “User error” when it was all the fault of the extinguisher! (See video report of the Dyne study here: https://youtu.be/4YDFtGubNpY )

So what’s the Better Option I discovered? An extinguisher called the Rusoh® Eliminator®.

Even though it’s UL listed, and has been on the market since 2017, I have never seen this extinguisher! It really is different, starting with looks. Here are the innovations and why I had to write this Advisory.

  • You “charge” this extinguisher only when you need it! Pull down the simple yellow lever to puncture a CO2 cartridge (about the size of a short flashlight). The extinguisher is instantly pressurized. (The cartridges come in packs so you can always have a fresh one on hand.)  So, the Eliminator eliminates the “pressure leak” concern.
  • There’s no danger of the chemicals inside the container getting compacted, thanks to the Eliminator’s “Fluffing tool.”  (This is what captured my imagination!) Imagine an augur running up the center of the extinguisher. Every month, just give the “Fluffer” on the bottom of the extinguisher several turns. The chemicals inside will be stirred and mixed up, eliminating “compaction.”
  • The container can’t rust or dent or degrade because it’s made of super hard polymer. Eliminates damage and/or deterioration. Recyclable, too.
  • To use, lift off the wall holder, puncture the CO2, aim and squeeze. Big handle that’s easy to grab, solid body, works with left or right hand. Eliminates confusion and fumbling.

Most compelling feature for business? The Eliminator can eliminate service contracts!

Because it’s so simple, you can do the monthly and annual maintenance yourself after getting certified via an online course. Doing your own maintenance saves money being paid to outside vendors, and avoids the security and perhaps health risks of having strangers wandering through your facility.

So what does the Eliminator cost, compared to traditional extinguishers?

As you might expect, the initial purchase price is more. I looked at the cost of the 5 lb. extinguisher, most popular for commercial use. It costs around $150 (on the website), compared to a typical rechargeable extinguisher around $40-$60.

But that’s the purchase price, not the full cost. For business, costs includes those yearly inspections, maintenance, recharge, etc. How much are you paying for those services now? If you’re always on the lookout for cost savings, check out the Savings Calculator at the Fire Technology Innovations site.

If you’re serious about better fire extinguisher protection, I encourage you to take a closer look at the Rusoh Eliminator. You may want to do like I did, just pick up the phone and talk directly to the VP, John Tabacek. Here’s his contact info: John Tabacek, Fire Technology Innovations, (949) 246-4826 (PST), j.tabacek@teamfti.com, www.teamfti.com

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. These questions were all mine, as a “regular” consumer with a serious interest. I am sure that a trained professional may have more of them. Either way, as a user or a professional, your comments and questions will help us all learn more. Please share them!

Maybe you missed this? Tsunami warnings.

tsunami evacuation route sign
Are you familiar with this?

Yes, where you’re located makes a difference when it comes to emergency planning. I’m writing from sunny Southern California, just about 12 miles from the Pacific and its beaches. We plan a lot for earthquakes, but seldom if ever for tsunamis. But we need to keep remembering that everything is changing these days! On January 15, just 3 weeks ago, we were alerted by a series of unexpected but real tsunami warnings!

A volcanic eruption near the Tonga Islands in the South Pacific was the cause . . . and I’m sure you have seen images of what happened there. (Actually, not many images have surfaced since the eruption and waves destroyed all internet connections in the area.)

While effects were minor on the West Coast, some marinas and harbors were hit, some streets and parking areas were flooded, and a few boats were damaged or even sunk.

Could you find yourself in a Tsunami Danger Zone?

Maybe a LOT more easily than you think!

In the U.S. residents of coastal cities are at risk for tsunamis: in Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California. We need to add to the list US business travelers and tourists heading to Japan, Thailand, Singapore and anywhere in the Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire” countries. That’s a lot of people and a lot of places!

My son was caught in the tsunami that hit the Pacific in 2004. He was vacationing in Thailand. As he reported it live on Larry King (!), he saw a “strange long unbroken wave” forming way out in the bay. He even paused to take a photo without realizing that the wave was bearing down on the beach much faster than he could run.

Pacific Rim countries showing reach of 2004 tsunami

Yes, he was caught, washed off his feet and pushed into a building, where he was able to clamber up above the water and wait until it went down. He was young and very strong and lucky. He lost only a shoe and a camera. Over 227,000 people around the Indian Ocean weren’t so lucky. They lost their lives. This little map shows just how far that tsunami reached! 

That was in 2004, and many Americans really didn’t know how to recognize a tsunami. My son didn’t. He would now, though, and you should be able to, too.

Be prepared before you ever hear tsunami warnings.

I’ve written before on how to know you’re in a tsunami zone, and what do to to be ready in case one hits. I just recently came across and excellent video on LinkedIn and I decided it was a lot better than my earlier written description!! Even if you think you’ll “never be in a tsunami zone” someone you love may be headed on vacation next summer. Be sure they see this video, too!

Thanks to Steve Eberlein for another great training video!

Some compelling highlights from the video

  1. Are you in a tsunami zone right now? If you’re in the US, you can check at http://www.tsunamizone.org/knowyourzone/. Or if you’re on the road, check the World Map at http://www.mapsofworld.com/world-maps/tsunami-zones.html
  2. How will you know a tsunami is on its way? NOAA emergency radios and various alert apps broadcast this information. You may hear local sirens if the tsunami is threatening.
  3. If you are in a zone — particularly if you are traveling and in an unfamiliar place — you MUST know the evacuation routes! (Steve’s video makes this very clear!) Family members need to know them too, because you may not be together when you hear the tsunami warnings. Nor will it necessarily be in the daytime, during moderate weather, etc.
  4. If you feel an earthquake and are on the coast, and if you hear tsunami warnings, how long do you have to get to safety? It may be as little as TEN MINUTES! That means you won’t have time to run back home or to a hotel to get personal things or your emergency kit. So — be sure every family member has at all times a day-pack that holds some essentials, including emergency contact information. A jacket, snack, etc. would be good, too. You may not be able to get back, or get back together, for hours or even days.

Pass along this information to friends and family – and stay safe! Don’t wait until World Tsunami Awareness Day comes around on November 5 to be better prepared for this hazard.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. While we’re talking about tsunamis and earthquakes, did you know that April 26 is National Richter Scale Day?

Your Home Inventory — Missing in Action?

In disaster, no household inventory means confusion and potential loss
“I don’t even know how to get started . . .”

I am an avid list maker. I’ve been known in certain circles as “The Queen of Lists.” (It’s a toss-up as to whether that title is meant to be admiring or annoyed.) Still, with all the hundreds or even thousands of lists I’ve created and operated with, one has been missing: a detailed home inventory.

Yes, we have some partial lists. (Joe loves building databases.) But covering EVERYTHING? Nope.

We’re going to need the inventory sooner or later.

Just like some other aspects of emergency preparedness, this one gets overlooked by a lot of people. Yet in any disaster, we’re going to need that home inventory! 

  • House burns down to the ground, Can we PROVE to the insurance company what we lost?
  • Storm damages our home and garage. Insurance company low-balls the cost of repairs. A claims adjustor wants 15% to help. Will we get what we need in order to recover?
  • Family member passes away. One of us is named executor. The job of executor (slightly different in every state, unfortunately) is to inventory all the assets before the will can be probated. If I have to do it, or my kids have to do it, how long will that take? Who is meant to get what? Whose feelings are going to get hurt along the way?!

Yes, building a detailed inventory can be daunting!

If you start making lists of your belongings when you’re in your teens, it might be easy just to keep adding to them. But most of us don’t. And all of us keep adding stuff! Just swivel around in your chair right now. Take a look at everything around you – it’s likely to add up to dozens or even hundreds of individual items!

But that’s just how to start – by listing everything in your home, room by room.  

The actual process may take time, but it needn’t be complicated.

Start with pen and paper.

You can find many useful and free LISTS on line that will help you get started with paper and pen. (Search for “home inventory list templates.”) In fact, your own property insurance company may have templates you can request or download. But take the time to research. Get a template that’s not too simple, not too complicated, just right for your use.

Here’s an example of home inventory lists from New York Central Insurance. It consists of 18 pages of lists, room by room. The first page also has ideas on how to store your lists so they will be available when you need them. As you will see, this template also has a place for the name of the manufacturer, serial number, date purchased and purchase price.

Other templates may give you a place to show whether you have the actual purchase receipt, plus what it would cost to replace in today’s dollars. One thing I didn’t see on any of the simple lists: “Who is to inherit this.”

Lots of detail already! But if you’re like Joe, you want even more info on each item So you’ll probably consider expanding your list into a database of some sort. That way you can add everything!

You’ll quickly see the value of photos as part of your home inventory.

As soon as you begin making your list, particularly when you start listing one-of-a-kind items, you’ll realize you need to add photos. For collectibles, you’ll want to add the name of the artist or creator, appraised or estimated sales value (as part of a collection or alone), etc.  (For these specialty items, you may also discover that you’ll need to add a rider to your homeowner’s policy. Most policies have a limit for jewelry, art, etc.)

And don’t overlook important financial and personal documents! Best and easiest way to store them is as photos, too.

Once again, start simply. Use your camera to take a video of each room, all four walls and ceiling. This is a great start to establish what you actually own. Then, you can video or take individual photos of specific items to match them to your paper or digital inventory list.

Research tools for collectibles: I inherited a brass Chinese tea caddy from my grandfather. How to find out more about it, and what it is worth? First, I headed to Google Images to look at similar items for sale, mostly on Etsy but some via galleries. Recently I discovered that my new iPhone has Google Lens – an app. You take a photo and then Google looks across the whole universe for similar items for you! Possibly an exaggeration. But it’s using artificial intelligence – and is impressive!

Surely there are programs to help make building the home inventory simpler!

Yes, there are. In fact, search for “Home Inventory Programs” and you can find dozens of them. Prices range. (I noticed in my own search that many of the programs were created a dozen or more years ago. Many don’t seem to have been updated since. Read the fine print.) There are well-known brands represented along with specialty products for particular uses.

Look for these feature as you shop:.

  • FREE software to download. Check to see how much info you can enter (usually limited). Check how your information can be accessed and/or printed out. You may be able to buy “additional features” for separate small fees.
  • FREE software to download, followed by pay per month or per year. Note that in some of these cases you are paying because the owner of the software is keeping your data on their server.
  • One-time program purchase. Again, look carefully at what information you are able to record and how you can retrieve it. For example, can you download a pdf? A comma delimited file (or comma separated file) for a spreadsheet? Where does the inventory information reside: on your own computer, on another website, or in the cloud? Will the software be updated?
  • All-in-one programs do their best to combine everything you’d want, starting with automatic insertion of new items into the database where they belong. They’ll offer regular updates, search and sort capabilities, cloud storage, robust security and training videos. If you are serious, take a look at Pinventory.com. It offers a free trial. (I got owner Carol Kaufman to guide me through — and I was impressed! Used my iPhone to take a photo of a shelf of my own books. Within just a second everything appeared right on my PC’s “Home Office” inventory page!) The folks at Pinventory may also be able to give you personalized help if you need it.

How and where to store your home inventory.

As you have realized by now, anything you store IN YOUR HOME may be lost in the disaster. You’ll want to store hard copies in a safe or a safe deposit box. Store digital copies on your phone, computer, an external drive off-site, and in the cloud. Make a plan for regular updates.

However “prepared” you consider yourself, if you haven’t done a household inventory you are leaving yourself open for financial loss and emotional trauma. Putting it off only makes it worse!

Hope you can get started today!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Any horror stories about losing time and money because no inventory could be found? Any good news stories because an inventory was available? Please share!

Smoke Alarm Update – January, 2022

Push button to test smoke alarm
Is this what your alarm looks like?

It’s a new year. January is always a good time to “reset” and think about setting new priorities. Over the past couple of weeks I took the time to “think longer term” about helping organize a neighborhood emergency group. I welcomed that “big” topic. But then over the weekend I got news that was like being hit alongside the head.

Thirty-one people killed in two apartment house fires!

What happened? Time for an immediate smoke alarm update!

Two different sets of circumstances but alarms failed people in each.

In the Philadelphia fire (3-level apartment building) no alarms were heard to go off. But the building owner swears that smoke and CO alarms were located throughout the apartments and had been tested positively last fall. What’s the answer?

In the Bronx fire (19-story high rise) people ignored the smoke alarms going off “. . . because they go off all the time.” When automatic doors did not close as expected, smoke rapidly filled the building. With no exterior fire escapes, people died from smoke inhalation, not from fire itself.

This is not a complete report. People are still in the hospital; officials are still examining damage to the buildings; displaced families are still in trauma. So, we’ll probably learn more.

For us it is another reminder of the life-saving role of WORKING smoke alarms.

Our neighbors have smoke alarm problems, too.

Just like the people in the Bronx building, when their smoke alarms chirp or even go off for apparently no reason, our neighbors get tired of trying to figure out what to do. Many of our older neighbors find it difficult to “test” their alarms because they can’t reach the alarms without climbing up on a ladder. Eventually, they abandon the alarms or even tear them down and throw them out – sometimes, still chirping! 

Here’s the statistic from NPFA that keeps our testing program strong and drives this Advisory, too::

The death rate in home fires is much higher where a smoke alarm is present but does not operate than it is in home fires with no smoke alarms at all.

Let’s assume you have smoke alarms. In the right places. Now, make sure they are operating.

Test the alarms to see if their batteries are working. All smoke alarms have batteries. But different types of alarms use batteries differently.

What kind of alarm do you have? You probably can’t tell just by standing on the floor and looking up at it! You need to get up on a ladder and twist the body of the battery out of its mount. Examine the back side.

  • Some alarms are sealed so batteries can’t be removed. At the end of its battery life, the alarm needs to be discarded and replaced.
  • Other alarms operate with batteries that need to be replaced on a regular basis.
  • Still other alarms are wired to the house and use its electricity, but have batteries as back-up if the electricity goes out. You can change the battery on a wired alarm without disconnecting any of the wires. 

Replaceable batteries last about 6 months. That’s why we recommend testing and changing them twice a year when the time changes.

Testing is simple: just press the “test” button until you hear the fire alarm tone.

If a battery in your alarm starts running low, it may alert you by cheeping or chirping. This means, time to change.

What if the beeping won’t stop?

Sometimes the alarm continues to chirp or beep after you have changed the battery and done everything right. Do not allow this to drive you crazy! It simply means that the “coding” in the alarm hasn’t been cleared out. You need to RESET your alarm so you know it is working properly.

Here’s a good video showing the whole sequence. (Only 2 minutes long.)

Electric (hard-wired) Smoke Detectors with Battery Backup

  1. Go to the breaker box for your house. Shut off the circuit to your smoke detector.
  2. Remove the detector from the bracket on the ceiling and disconnect the power cable plugged to the smoke detector.
  3. Take out its battery, then press the “Test” button on the “empty” alarm and hold it down for 15 seconds. An alarm will sound for a short time, then the alarm will silence.
  4. Put the battery back into the smoke detector, reconnect the power cable and mount the smoke detector back on its bracket. Turn the breaker on. The smoke alarm will chirp one time to indicate power has been restored to the unit.

Battery-Powered Smoke Detectors

  1. Remove the battery from the smoke detector.
  2. Press the “Test” button and hold it down for 15 seconds. An alarm will sound for a short time, and then will stop.
  3. Reinstall the battery. The smoke alarm will chirp once to indicate the battery is connected.

Want more assurance? Get new alarms if you need them!

Smoke alarms have a life of 7-10 years. Don’t push your luck! If you know by now that you need new smoke alarms, don’t hesitate. If you want hard-wired alarms, you may need expert electrical help to get them installed. But you can easily install battery-operated alarms yourself.

Check out the sample products below and head to Amazon to compare. Prices for alarms continue to come down: the alarms below start at less than $10, and even the newest, combo smoke and CO alarms start at prices as low as $20. (Buying a multi-pack can reduce the cost of the individual item considerably.) Kidde and First Alert are two of the most popular brands.

Battery-operated Sealed

Kidde – 21026051 Smoke Detector Alarm | Battery Operated | Model i9050

Hard Wired with Battery Back-up

First Alert BRK9120b6CP Hardwired Smoke Detector with Backup Battery

Important for travel safety — a portable alarm you can carry with you.

What if you arrive at a hotel room, or even a friend’s basement guest room, and note that there is no smoke alarm!? Consider getting a smaller, more compact and battery-operated alarm that you can set up for more peaceful sleep. And then, pack it up and take it away with you. Below is an example.

NOTICE: Not all the portable brands of smoke alarms are UL listed so some states (like California) won’t allow them. Be sure the model you’re looking at will meet your state’s requirements. (The Amazon sales page will tell you.)

SITERWELL Smoke Detector , Photoelectric Technology Smoke Alarm with 10 Year Life Time, Small Fire Alarm with Built-in Battery and Test&Silence Button for House, UL Listed, GS522C-A, 4 Packs

This Advisory is one of the important ones. Please make sure you “know your alarms” and are confident they are working properly. We have had four house fires in our neighborhood in the past 10 years. Every house burned to the ground, but no one was injured thanks to smoke alarms!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. Several years ago I wrote about what happened when I tried to test my smoke alarms for the first time. That Advisory also distinguishes between photoelectric and ionization technology. You may enjoy that story . . .!

End of Life Options

woman thinking about end of life options

(See 2022 update to California Death with Dignity Act, below.)

Most of my friends in the Emergency Preparedness realm seem to agree with our mantra, “The more we all know, the safer we all will be.” For me, the mantra extends to “The more options we know about, the less fear we’ll have.” (Options certainly drove the content of books in the Mini-Series like “No water?” and Personal Safety.)

Today I want to touch on some options that very seldom get discussed, namely, your end of life options. That is, what choices you have about medical care and particularly, what choices you have about when and how you will die.

We don’t usually spend much time talking about dying or the choices we have at end of life.

It seems that we actually avoid talking about dying although it’s something we all have in common! I’m not sure exactly why this is the case. Are we afraid of dying? Do we think that talking about it will make it happen? Do we somehow want to “protect our children?”

Well, Joe and I have experienced the death of a number of family members and, more recently, of several neighbors. And the hundreds of thousands of deaths resulting from the coronavirus have made death something we hear about every day.

It’s time to know more about end of life options and take some preparedness actions NOW before it’s too late.

Disclaimer: This Advisory isn’t meant to be a statement about religious or cultural beliefs. Nor is it meant to offer medical or legal advice. It is meant to clarify some concepts that may be fuzzy (as they were for me a while back) and give you an idea of where to go for more info.

Before you get ill, you need Advance Directives to tell your doctors how to handle certain situations.

Several documents can be consdidered Advance Directives – a Living Will, a DNR order, and/or a Medical Power of Attorney. Here are simple definitions:

  • A Living Will tells your doctor what kind of medical care you want should you become incapacitated. Examples might be ventilator for life support, artificial nutrition, etc. If the Living Will doesn’t mention a specific issue, then the doctors will probably go ahead and treat you as they ordinarily would to save and sustain your life. You need to have the Living Will completed before anything happens.
  • A DNR, or Do Not Resuscitate order, gives medical personnel specific instructions about what to do when your heart or breathing stops.
  • The Medical Power of Attorney gives someone else (usually a family member) the right to make medical choices for you if you are incapacitated or unable to make decisions for yourself.

Different states have different rules regarding these documents, so your first action is to find out how things work in YOUR state. Action item: Simply type into your browser the words, “Advance Directives [your state].

The challenge with all these documents is if you have wishes, they need to be clearly spelled out, appropriately witnessed, and readily available to medical personnel. In addition, your family needs to know exactly what your wishes are.

Example of worst case

You’ve been through a long illness and know you do not want to be resuscitated if your heart stops. But you haven’t really made it clear to family or, for that matter, to your doctor. An incident occurs. Out of fear or emotion, your family insists you be kept alive no matter what it takes or what it costs. A bad situation becomes terrible.

Please don’t wait. Get these forms and make these decisions and talk about them NOW.

What end of life options do you have regarding your body after death?

Burial or Cremation

I’m sure you are familiar with standard burial and cremation. Decisions here may be determined by religion, timing, location, and your survivors’ finances.  Be aware of these financial benefits:

  • Social Security will pay a one-time lump sum of $255 to a surviving spouse.
  • The Veterans Administration has benefits to help with burial, funeral and transportation costs for veterans who die in a VA hospital and/or who were receiving a VA pension.
  • The stimulus bill passed in December, 2020 has a plan to reimburse families for funeral costs if they had a loved one die from COVID-19 between Jan. 20 and Dec. 31 of 2020. As of February, 2021, FEMA reports it is working on setting up a hotline.

Donation of your Body to Science

People who want to advance the understanding of science may wish to donate parts of their body or their entire body after their death. Many different programs are available so again, it pays to do your research. (Do more than just read their websites, which will always be positive. Check on reputation via news stories.)

Joe and I agreed we want to donate our bodies to science. Here’s what we discovered as we looked into options here in Southern California.

  • Many programs exist. Some are national, some local. Some are free; some have a fee. We elected to go with our local university’s medical center.
  • Being accepted requires that we have an application on file. The university will collect our bodies and transport them at no cost. The program will not return any remains.
  • There are some circumstances that would deny us coverage. For example, while our program will come to get us no matter where we are, another program placed a 50 mile maximum distance. We must fall within normal weight limits and our bodies must be intact. And if we die from COVID, the university will be unable to use our bodies so we need to have alternate arrangements.

If this seems weird or uncomfortable to you as you read this, you can believe that some of our family members found it uncomfortable, too!  We have had multiple conversations about our choice!

What options are available regarding how and when to die?

Hospice Care

If you have a terminal illness (most likely with no more than 6 months to live), you may choose to stop trying to cure the illness and ask for hospice care so you can die as comfortably as possible at home or, if necessary, in a hospice inpatient facility.

Mayo Clinic defines hospice this way: “Hospice care is a service for a person who has discontinued disease-fighting treatments and is preparing to die.”  Medicare Part A and most health plans cover hospice.

(Palliative care is often linked with hospice care. Palliative care is aimed at providing comfort for a particular illness/symptom/pain and may be short or long-term. It is usually paid for by your insurance. Hospice care is always palliative care, but palliative care is not always hospice care.)

As you might expect, you have choices of different hospice providers, so do your research.  Your doctor or hospital may be able to refer you. Ask questions about what exactly the hospice workers will do and what they won’t do, how often they come, their response time, does the program offer respite care, etc.

Ending your life on your own schedule

The idea of choosing when to die is extremely controversial.  Still, people who suffer or anticipate constant pain, sickness, depression, anxiety or fear deserve to know about these end of life options, too.

Here are two programs as examples.

1. Final Exit Network (FEN)

The Final Exit Network (FEN) is a newer version of a program many of us have heard of: the Hemlock Society. FEN is a national, non-profit organization serving members in all 50 states.  

The network believes that “a mentally competent person with intolerable suffering or pain has the right to end their life, choosing the timing and persons present, and should be free of any restrictions by the law, clergy, medical profession, friends or relatives.” 

FEN does not encourage people to end their lives, and does not help people end their lives. Rather, its goal is to educate people about end of life options and to provide a compassionate presence at their bedside. FEN also defends people’s legal rights to end their lives.

2. Death With Dignity Act

Since I live in California, I’ve spent some time finding out about this particular end of life option. Ten states have the Act; the parameters in all seem quite similar.

The California Act allows terminally ill adult residents in California to get medical help to end their own lives. Under the law, this is NOT considered suicide. You can get the full history of the CA Death With Dignity act here.

Here’s how “aid in dying” works in California.

The “aid” is a prescription for a medication that will end your life. To request the prescription, you must be 18, a California resident, capable of making your own decisions, and diagnosed with a terminal illness that will result in death within six months.

UPDATED JANUARY 2022. Before 2022, you had to make at least two requests for the medication, 15 days apart.  You had to provide a written request, signed by two witnesses. Two doctors had to confirm your condition and confirm that you were capable of making your own medical decisions. As of today, the process has been simplified. Duplicate written attestations have been eliminated; most importantly, your two requests only have to be 48 hours apart.

NO OTHER PERSON can make this request on your behalf. Moreover, you have to be able to take/drink the prescription by yourself. It cannot be “administered.”

According to the California website, in 2019, the latest year for which statistics are available, 618 people received prescriptions under the act and 405 used them to die. 

A personal note.

I inquired of my own doctor about the Act. She told me that she would never agree to sign off on the prescription for me, based on her personal beliefs. I was surprised! However, she assured me that competent colleagues would be willing and able to do so.

So, don’t assume anything about your own doctor!

Writing this Advisory has brought back memories and reminded me, again, that every single person may have a different idea about how end of life should be approached. All competent and caring individuals, however, surely do not want to leave an emotional mess and even a tug-of-war behind because they didn’t make their wishes known.

As long as you are healthy, you can always make changes in any of these end of life decisions. But if you haven’t made decisions, the minute you get ill they may be taken right out of your hands.

I welcome any real-life experiences to add to this Advisory.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Last week we talked about the simple things you can do to prepare for personal emergencies. If you didn’t see it, please go back and take another look at the Just In Case letter. It’s a good first step in this type of planning.

Your Neighborhood Emergency Group – Planning Calendar Part 2

A neighbor may be the person who reaches out to save you in an emergency

Grab my hand!

When you’re in real trouble, you’ll be so thankful to see that hand! You may be well prepared, but sometimes you just can’t do everything yourself. Sometimes you have to count on others. That’s where the neighborhood emergency group comes in.

Last week’s Planning Calendar introduced over a dozen ideas for improving emergency preparedness.  I chose every one of these ideas because each could help you and at the same time could help build a neighborhood emergency group.

What makes up a neighborhood group?

I’ll start by describing what I think it is NOT.  A neighborhood group is not people who have taken a formal training. It isn’t a church group or a scout troop. Why? Because these motivated people almost always come from across a wide local area. When their meeting or training is over, they scatter to head home.

For our purposes, a neighborhood is made up of the people who live next door and across the street.

Your neighborhood may extend to several blocks or up or down several floors in a large apartment building. It may be made up of 10 homes, or twice that many. We focus on this limited number of people for very specific reasons.

  1. Close neighbors tend to know who lives nearby – they know the size of your family, recognize your kids, your pets and your cars.
  2. Neighbors also tend to know family patterns. Who leaves for work when, who’s at home at a given time.
  3. Neighbors are the people who are nearby and can reach out a hand to save you when the disaster hits!

Neighbors make the difference when it comes to quick response.

When the tsunami and mud flows hit in Japan in 2011, people were dug out alive by neighbors who knew they were at home and even in what room they were likely to be! Of course, it doesn’t always work that way. In 2021, flood waters from Hurricane Ida filled up basement apartments in New York so quickly that not all residents were able to escape, despite the heroic efforts of neighbors.

Still, the advantages of being a part of a neighborhood group extend way past being able to save or be saved.

Over the years, we’ve surveyed our neighbors about why they participate in our neighborhood group. They give a number of reasons, of course. But the most frequent reason? “I want to be of service.” 

We try to respect that and build on it as we plan our activities each year.

What makes a good neighborhood emergency group activity?

Whether it’s held in a community room, a living room or a back yard, a good meeting has at least these three components: 

  1. Valuable information (preferably information that the group members have already indicated an interest in)
  2. A chance to practice or put new information or new skills to work
  3. Interaction giving group members a chance to get to know each other better

Of course, there are many more details for a meeting planner to consider – agenda, publicity, seating arrangements, etc. Here’s our own Meeting Planner Checklist if you’re looking for a good reminder. The main thing for planning: What’s your goal for this meeting?

What makes a good neighborhood emergency group?

Now, just because someone lives next door doesn’t mean they will be a good member of your neighborhood group. What are you looking for as you reach out with invitations? Your neighborhood team will be most successful when . . .

  1. Members share a common goal – in this case, “We want our neighborhood to be better prepared for emergencies.”  (This broad goal includes the whole neighborhood. It doesn’t limit readiness to “the neighbors who have lived here for years” or “the neighbors that look like me” or “the neighbors that speak my native language.”) When an emergency hits the neighborhood, we’re all in it together!
  2. Members are prepared to take an active role. They come with ideas. (When people arrive saying, “I just want to see what’s going on . . .” it doesn’t bode well.) Of course, not everyone can do everything. But we have found that committed group members can always find a job they can do successfully.
  3. Communication is open. People are encouraged and expected to join in. Differences of opinion may arise, which leads to #4 . . .
  4. Patience is required. Not everyone comes with the same level of experience or understanding.  (In fact, we have to go over basic building block info again and again.)
  5. Flexibility is essential. Every neighborhood is unique, so every group will be different. Moreover, over time, neighborhoods change. One “plan” may work for a while, but only until a better “plan” emerges.

Who makes the best neighborhood emergency group leader?

This is tricky. Often, someone with strong background in emergency training just naturally takes on the role of leader. For example, we have worked with groups where ex-military or trained First Responders are leaders.

However, they are not always successful!

Why not? There is a big difference between an official team – such as a military unit or a trained non-profit team – and a neighborhood group. Official teams know who’s in charge. They have had the same training. They expect to follow procedures and orders.

Neighbors are not necessarily ready to “follow orders” as laid down by someone down the block!

In a volunteer neighborhood organization, leaders have to earn their authority. What we have found is that the leadership roles often change, depending on the skills required at the time.

In our neighborhood group, for example, over the years we’ve had medical professionals step up and do intensive trainings for small groups of neighbors. Members with engineering backgrounds have headed up programs on detecting gas leaks. Just this last year a member with an interest in people with hearing and/or mobility loss managed a program that delivered an emergency whistle to everyone in her “division”!

Don’t overlook the value of CERT – Community Emergency Response Team training.

One source of reliable leaders to count on: your city’s CERT program. Every time we can welcome a new CERT graduate our neighborhood group is rejuvenated. CERT volunteers add vital strength to the team:

  • Commitment to preparedness. (After all, CERT trainees self-select. They already have a preparedness mindset!)
  • Grasp of response fundamentals: search & rescue, first aid, etc.
  • Common language to describe emergencies, communicate with authorities, request assistance, etc.
  • Familiarity with official response process – from First Responders, city government, Federal government, etc.
  • Ongoing training opportunities (that they can bring back to the neighborhood group)

Even though they may be few in number, CERT volunteers are our best source of local neighborhood support and leadership. You can probably see why I dedicated our first books, the “Neighborhood Disaster Survival Guide” series, to CERT!

The Survival Guide series goes into much greater detail about developing leaders and how they effectively build a more engaged neighborhood. In each neighborhood the emphasis is on the benefits of working together.

Take another look at the Guide for your neighborhood if you haven’t seen it yet!

What’s a realistic goal when it comes to building a neighborhood group?

If your first goal is “helping our neighborhood be better prepared for emergencies,” you can meet it no matter the size of your group!

At the very least you can get valuable information to all your neighbors. Put articles in with the rent notice. Add tips to a neighborhood social media site. Publish a newsletter or flyers. If you’ve been reading our Advisories for a while you’ve heard how we have distributed a bottle of water to each of our neighbors along with a list of recommended emergency supplies; passed out friendly “Be my neighbor!” forms so people would exchange keys for use in an emergency; and distributed earthquake safety info in English and Chinese.

These educational activities have reached all our neighbors.

At the same time, we have invited interested neighbors to become active members of our neighborhood group. Our active group wants to learn more about the neighborhood (security vulnerabilities; gas line shut-offs, etc.) and develop new skills (how to operate walkie-talkies, a fire extinguisher, an emergency generator). They get particular satisfaction from serving other members of the community!

The active group varies in size, as you can imagine. In our community we’ve had as many as 90 active members (!). Today, after 2 years of Covid shut-down, we have only 37. Not enough for a neighborhood-wide “organization.” But we plan activities to reach out to everyone while we continue to work on ways to attract new “actives.” 

When can you say you’ve been successful?   

Helping create a resilient neighborhood isn’t easy. It doesn’t happen overnight, or even over the course of weeks. In fact, it’s an ongoing process since, just as neighborhoods change, so do the emergencies we are likely to face!  

What doesn’t change, though, is the satisfaction of getting to know and to trust more of your neighbors. General Dwight Eisenhower – born in Texas, raised in Kansas, WWII General and 34th U.S. President — put it like this:

“The only things worth counting on are the people you can count on.”

I hope you’ll find something in this long discussion that will strengthen your group and your own enthusiasm, too. And since this is all meant to help everyone, please share your own best ideas for building a neighborhood group!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Disasters are gonna happen! Planning Calendar for 2022, Part 1

Ice cream cone dropped on the ground, melting
A disaster!

We hope we never have to hear you say something like this:

“Oh, darn!  I KNEW I should have fastened up that shelf / replaced those bottles of water / checked those batteries . . . !”

Truth is, disasters are gonna happen. Most aren’t entirely unexpected. And we’ve learned that if we simply prepare for a few of the biggest ones, we’ll be ready for most of the smaller ones. But if we let the small ones go . . . well, bigger and scarier emergencies are right around the corner! (Nothing worse than a spilled ice cream cone, of course!) A preparedness planning calendar can help keep us on track.

Your family’s well being comes first on your planning calendar.

About half of the Advisories we write deal with suggestions for individuals and  families.  They range from revisiting the contents of your go-bag, to keeping emergency radios maintained, to how solar works as an emergency power supply.

Last year, during the pandemic lock-down, we collected 14 of the most popular Advisory ideas for individuals.  Then we doubled the amount of info on each basic topic. Each topic became one volume of our “Emergency Preparedness Q&A Mini-Series.”

(Happy note: one of my real estate friends gave away copies of several of the mini-books to her clients as holiday gifts. She sent me this text: “I’ve gotten many many sincere thanks for such wonderful books!!!! Thank you so much! Hugs, Jaci, Seven Gables Real Estate”)

Worried that you may have overlooked some preparedness essentials? Looking for an easy way to review? Check out our mini-series and add some of them right now to your To-do list for 2022. Pass them along when you’ve finished with them!

But don’t stop there. Take your preparing to the next step!

We think Emergency Plan Guide is unique in its focus on building prepared neighborhoods. As you have seen, in “real life” Joe and I help organize and train our own neighborhood emergency response group. We’ve done it for nearly 20 years!

So besides the info for individual preparedness, our Advisories cover activities aimed at attracting and engaging our immediate neighbors. You may recall some of our stories from 2020 and 2021. Even when so much community activity was shuttered, our team was able to put together an  “Emergency Whistle Give-away,” hold a first-of-its-kind virtual meeting with our City’s Emergency Manager, and very early on, reach out to isolated neighbors via simple telephone conference calls.

Neighborhood resilience depends on  —  neighbors!

No matter what the make-up of your neighborhood, every family will benefit by knowing more about readiness. But we believe preparedness extends beyond each family having emergency supplies and training.

A prepared neighborhood may be able to rescue and support those people whose homes or livelihood were damaged or destroyed! 

It was neighbors who pulled out boats to search for survivors in the floods after Hurricane Harvey. After Hurricane Ida slammed into Louisiana, it was neighbors who got busy and nailed blue tarps over leaking roofs when there was no sign of promised government help. When the tornados hit in Kentucky last month, it was neighbors who pulled people from the debris in the darkness.

Who would help YOU if an earthquake flattened your home? Your school? Your place of business?  It would be your neighbors!  The ones right there. The ones who know where you are likely to be. The neighbors who have gloves and crowbars and lights and are ready to jump into action as soon as they know they themselves are safe.

So as we take a look at planning for 2022, sure, let’s let the FEMA calendar guide us with some good themes. But at the same time, let’s add to our planning calendar some activities that build group awareness and resilience.

And next week, in Part 2, we’ll take a look at who you really want for your neighborhood team – and who you might NOT want.

So, a list of activities by month for 2022.

January – Time to get the year organized. Get your hands on or make your own monthly calendar, with plenty of place to write. For each month, fill in at least one appropriate topic. Then set up two columns, one to help individuals and families take action, and the other for groups. For example: In January, survey your group members to find out what they are worried about. Use that information to build in training over the course of the year to meet their concerns.

February – Winter awareness month, per FEMA. Focus on your location and your audience to identify winter threats. (For example, small children have different needs than the elderly when the power goes off . . .) Idea for group planning: what specialized winter equipment do you have available in the neighborhood that could be used to help more people? (snow plow, generator, home with fireplace, etc.) How would you deploy it?

March – Flood safety. Idea: test and emphasize your neighborhood emergency alert systems. Did forest fires ravage nearby areas? If so, watch out for mudslides and debris flow where they may never have occurred before.

April – Financial capability month. For most of us, having enough cash or savings to carry us through an emergency may simply not be possible. Idea: invite insurance professionals to speak to your neighborhood group. Be sure you come away knowing what is covered by homeowners or renters’ insurance, and what isn’t. Ask plenty of questions about wind and water damage.

May – Start of wildfire season. Big idea for this month: Become a FireWise USA Community!  Sponsored by the National Fire Protection Association and local fire departments, the program helps individuals and communities get ready for summer and potential fire danger. One of our Emergency Plan Guide groups has held multiple very successful FireWise events.

June – Start of Hurricane Season and, traditionally, start of the hottest season of the year. In 2021 we experienced deadly heat waves in the Pacific Northwest. Hundreds died quietly at home, exercising outside at school, and working in orchards and fields. Find out what temperatures to expect in your location. How can you protect the most vulnerable? Idea: set up a system to check on and support seniors in your neighborhood.

July – Fireworks safety.  Last year I studied the various fireworks ordinances in and around our town. Guess what?! Some fireworks were allowed in neighboring cities that weren’t allowed here!  So, be sure you know the rules for kids and adult enthusiasts. And have your fire extinguishers handy.

August – Back to school. Parents, know your school’s emergency procedures. Teachers, know what’s expected and if you aren’t getting comprehensive training, demand it. Traditional fire drills aren’t really enough these days. Make sure your school is ready for other emergencies including intruders, earthquake, tornado, etc. Do you need emergency tools or equipment in the classroom? Emergency food supplies? Find out.

September – This is National Preparedness Month. Idea: Plan a Preparedness Expo for your neighborhood or group. Consider guest speakers, commercial vendors, games, exhibits by police and fire. Invite school or scout groups as partners. Solicit donations so visitors go away with starter items for their own emergency kits. Be sure to arrange for publicity.

October – Cybersecurity month plus the Great American Shakeout! Idea: Sponsor an educational meeting for local businesses, with a “Cyber-Security Checklist” as take-away. Idea for group: Present dramatic video of earthquake footage (available on YouTube) and discuss earthquake myths. Send people home with an Emergency Whistle to help if they are trapped after a shaker.

November – Holiday cooking safety. Idea: Invite professionals to demonstrate how different fire extinguishers work on different types of fires. Review fire extinguisher procedures and practice with real or digital equipment. Already been there and done that?  Do it again for the benefit of new members of the group.

December – seems to be Protection Month!  Ready.gov recommends getting your flu shot. Avoiding shopping scams and hazards. Managing holiday lights and fires. (I seem to have been right on schedule when I came up with my tips for using plugs and extension cords a week ago!)

Customize your planning calendar to fit your circumstances.

The ideas listed above are just that – ideas for you and your leadership team to discuss as you develop your planning calendar. Use or discard them or better yet, come up with variations that will work for you, specifically.

As we continue to emphasize, every community is unique. That’s why we wrote four different versions of our Neighborhood Disaster Survival Guide. There’s probably one for your type of neighborhood. Each of those guides, by the way, has pages full of ideas that could help fill in a year’s calendar of preparedness activities.

Whatever your source of ideas, this is a great time to get organized for the year. There’s no reason to get caught flat-footed when emergencies hit – and so many good reasons to be ready!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Planning for 2022, Part 2, will be coming out in a week or so. Watch for it! It will have suggestions for building a workable neighborhood team and keeping it on track.

Ten Minutes Helps Prepare for a Winter Power Outage

Icicles hanging from roof edge
Beautiful for the holidays. Deadly if no power . . .

It’s been a pretty nice day here in sunny Southern California, but that should change starting tomorrow as we’re overtaken by another atmospheric river of moisture. Of course, we look forward to all the promised rain. And so far, there’s no suggestion that we could face a winter power outage.

But elsewhere in California, things are a bit more ominous.

  • Just now I checked with the National Weather Service and I found 23 different storm and winter weather warnings for California!
  • At the same time, I checked for power outages, and discovered 2,205 power outages happening right now in California!

Now I know you may not be in California. And I hope you weren’t in Texas last year, when they experienced a spectacular and devastating winter power outage disaster.

But no matter where you’re located, cold weather combined with a power outage can be deadly.

So that’s the combination we’re looking at with today’s Advisory.

Because it’s the holidays, and I know you’re busy, I have found the perfect way for you to get the info with as little effort as possible. It’s a video from Steven Eberlein of Ethos Preparedness. Only 10 minutes long. You might want to pull up a kid or two to watch with you.

I’ve been following Steven on LinkedIn for a while now. He’s a real preparedness expert with years of experience, a sense of humor (!), and he’s snuck dozens of sensible ideas and suggestions into these 10 minutes.

So grab a cup of hot chocolate and settle in!

Winter Weather Preparedness & Trapping Heat (Ready for Anything Video Library)

A good review, don’t you agree? Do yourself a favor and pull together any winter supplies you might be missing. And let me know what struck you as most important for YOUR circumstances!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S.  Now if you’re asking yourself, “What’s the forecast for our part of the country? Do we have any winter weather warnings?”

You can find out just like I did by heading to the National Weather Service site: https://www.weather.gov/ When you get there you’ll see a map somewhat like this. Type in your state. (The box highlighted in red on the image below shows where to put in your state.)

Map of weather warnings from National Weather Service

What’s ahead for YOU when it comes to winter weather? How ready are you?

Holiday Decorations Safety


Did you notice the second sentence in last week’s Advisory?  Here it is again: “So much of emergency preparedness is just getting smarter and more secure around the basics.” This week I was forced by my neighbors to take another look at one of those basics: making sure holiday decorations safety isn’t overlooked in the excitement of the season.

The reason I say “forced” is because our neighborhood sponsors an annual Holiday Decorating Contest.  The rules are simple: pretty much anything goes!  So outdoors we have strings of lights, plastic icicles, inflatable Santas, wire-sculpture reindeer, nativity scenes with the Star of Bethlehem. Through the windows we can see miniature villages with moving trains, Christmas trees of all sizes, and . . . burning candles!

Holiday Decorations Safety: A perfect theme for our December HOA meeting

Because of the decorating contest, we devoted some time at this week’s meeting to holiday safety. I hope this is all review for you. But in case you have new neighbors, new decorations or simply forgetful folks anywhere nearby, you may want to share some of this!

Our “educational display table” focused on extension cords.

We have found that people really do love to look at pictures and handle real examples. So we set out a simple display of things to watch out for. Here it is, nearly finished . . .

Step right up . . .!

From left to right you can see:

  • Image of broken and burned cord
  • GFI (GFCI) outlet (with real example)
  • How extension cords are sized (text)
  • Comparing indoor and outdoor extension cords and plugs (with real examples)
  • Image of cord showing “Indoor/Outdoor” label
  • Image of dangerously over-loaded wall socket (purposefully exaggerated)
  • Methods for keeping outdoor light plugs dry (plastic cover, baggie)

When people arrived, we had Emergency Response Team members staffing the table and making sure people got their questions answered.

An important benefit of building the display? We “experts” learned we weren’t so expert after all! How about you? Test your own level of extension-cord expertise with the 3 questions below!

(1) You need a really heavy-duty cord to run power tools for your construction project.  What gauge would you start looking at, a 10 gauge or a 16 gauge?
(2) Can you quickly name 3 common household appliances that should not be used with an extension cord?
(3) Your cord is marked with the letters SJTW.  What do they mean?

(You’ll find all the answers you need at this appropriately-named site: https://bethepro.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/extension-cords.pdf)

Next in the spotlight, a favorite hazard: candles!

You probably know this statistic from the NPFA: “On average, 20 home candle firs are reported per day, peaking in December and January.” Just about a year ago one of our neighbors lost her home as the result of a candle fire. We consistently warn about that danger here in our neighborhood, with a big emphasis on fire extinguishers.

One of our creative volunteers built a second display highlighting alternatives to candles!  Here’s a photo showing her different battery-operated, LED “candles.” The largest one actually flickers thanks to a clever floating “wick” mechanism. The main feature of these lights?  NO FLAME AND HARDLY ANY HEAT!  (Did you know that LEDs use less than 1/10 the energy of regular lights?)

You can imagine the flickering . . .

We ended up giving away about a dozen small LED tea candles to people who had never actually seen them before!  (See what I mean about getting smarter and more secure about the basics? Everyone can learn more!)

And to sum up: “Tis the season for safety!” checklist as handout

Finally, we handed out a one-page holiday decorations safety checklist to everyone. It offered 16 tips for lighting safety as regards

  • Candles – Avoid them!
  • Lights and Trees (6 tips on how to buy, how to maintain)
  • Cords and Outlets (Temporary use only! 9 tips for using the right size, when 3-prong plugs are required, what NOT to plug into an extension cord, etc.)

As always, we also created a version of our holiday decorations safety checklist in Chinese.

Some safety samples for your own use, or your educational display

If you think a display like ours might be useful, but you can’t rustle up examples of all the items we’ve mentioned, check out these items at Amazon. (Your purchase may give me a small commission that will keep me getting examples for my own trainings!)

General purpose outdoor extension cord

The important thing is to confirm that the cord is actually meant for outdoor use! The label may say “Indoor/Outdoor” and you may also see the letter “W” stamped on the cord itself. The longer the cord you need, the heavier gauge you should get, because current is lost over distance.

This general purpose 50 foot cord is heavy enough that it can be used to drive hand tools and gardening equipment – and of course it will work for holiday decorations.

Go Green Power Inc. GG-13750BK 50′ 16/3 SJT W-A Extension Cord, , , Black
Not sure about a GFI? (Ground Fault Interrupter) or GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter)? (They are the same thing!)

(I’m including this because I promised to dig ever deeper, remember?)  We had one of these in our tool shed that we pulled out for the display, but I had actually never really looked at it.  (Joe is the electrician around here.) You may have noticed one in your bathroom: they are required in kitchens and bathrooms to prevent shock in areas that may be damp.

This model has both a TEST button and a RESET button so you can have extra confidence that the circuit is working and is safe. (It glows red when it’s not working and/or needs to be replaced.)

Instructions say you can “install in 10 minutes.” I’d be sure to get an experienced installer!

ANKO GFCI Outlet 20 Amp, UL Listed, LED Indicator, Tamper-Resistant, Weather Resistant Receptacle Indoor or Outdoor Use with Decor Wall Plates and Screws
Something altogether new for me: A waterproof cover for extension cord plugs!

If your decorations will be outside in the weather, you’ll want to keep the plugs dry.  (In warm climates, that includes keeping them out of the path of the irrigation.) Of course, you can use a baggie and tie it shut, but this simple plastic case would be a whole lot easier and more reliable. Just place the plug into the case, snap it shut, and voila. Easy, Dry. Safe! (This one comes 3 to a pack.)

Flemoon [3 Pack] Outdoor Extension Cord Safety Cover with Waterproof Seal, Weatherproof Electrical Connection Box to Protect Outdoor Outlet, Plug, Socket, Christmas Holiday Decoration Light, Black
Finally, some REALLY attractive and very safe LED candles!
Table setting showing holiday decorations including LED candles

I was given these candles as a present!  They are absolutely beautiful and since they’re made of wax when they are lit you can’t tell they aren’t real. (Two AA batteries in each, can be turned on and off with a switch on the bottom, or remotely using controller.)

The candles are 3 inches across, so not small. The image from the advertising shows their relative size.

Flameless Battery Operated Flickering Candles: LED Real Wax Electric Votive Candle Lights with Remote Control Set of 3 Large Pillar Fake Candles for Wedding Party Outdoor Votive Diwali Garden

OK, that’s it for today’s review of extension cords vs. holiday decorations. Perhaps I’ve treated some of this in a light-hearted fashion, but it’s a serious topic. Every year 770 house fires are caused by Christmas lights. Take just a few sensible steps so you can enjoy your own holiday lights without a tragedy.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. If you would like a copy of our Holiday Decorations Checklist, click here to download the pdf. I’ve left space at the bottom of the checklist page so you can customize it to your own group before duplicating it.